Reproductive Justice is Climate Justice: Why I’m Celebrating My IUD This Earth Day

Three years ago, on Earth Day, I became the proud owner of an IUD. I didn’t intentionally plan to get the long-acting birth control on a day marked by celebrations of the planet, but it was actually pretty appropriate. The decision wasn’t just a great choice for my own health—it was also a great way to improve my carbon footprint.

Laura Owsianka for The Verb / Creative Commons

Every day, we add 227,000 people to the planet. All those people need food, water and other resources—so we drill for oil in our oceans, spray poisonous pesticides over fields and plow over wild places to care for them. In the process, we’re crowding out sea otters, monarch butterflies, whooping cranes and other species. We can recycle, reduce energy usage and plant trees, but all of those actions will come up short if we keep adding people at an unchecked rate. This is especially true here in the United States, where we have oversized consumption and an unplanned pregnancy rate of nearly 50 percent.

Choosing to have one fewer child can save nearly 60 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. My IUD ensures I only add to my family—and my carbon footprint!—if and when I’m ready. But only 8 percent of women in the United States have a long acting reversible contraceptive like me, likely because not enough doctors are recommending them and they can have a higher up-front cost than other forms of contraception, even if the total costs end up being less over the total time of use.

The Affordable Care Act helped broaden IUD access by removing cost barriers under the contraceptive coverage mandate. This mandate, which requires employers to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives with no out-of-pocket costs to employees, has saved women millions—and suffered relentless attacks from lawmakers who seek to restrict women’s reproductive health. Since the 2016 election, GOP lawmakers have tried multiple times to repeal and replace the ACA, each time with plans that severed contraceptive coverage and watered-down other reproductive health benefits even more than the previous attempts. And in 2017, the Trump administration rolled back the contraceptive coverage mandate and put over 55 million women at risk of losing their access to birth control.

Universal access to as many birth control as possible shouldn’t be controversial—and women’s rights and bodily autonomy shouldn’t be reduced to political talking points. That’s why this year, I’m celebrating my IUD’s birthday on Earth Day. Instead of encouraging women to recycle and bring reusable grocery bags to the store, I want them to be informed about how they can get more bang for their Earth-saving buck with long-acting reversible contraceptives. Instead of planting trees, I want us to celebrate and defend the ACA coverage that has let women make the right choices about contraception for themselves across the country.

Environmental sustainability and birth control access are deeply connected issues. On Earth Day, and every day, let’s honor Mother Earth by pledging to fight for both.

Sarah Baillie is the Endangered Species Condoms Coordinator within the Population and Sustainability Program at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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  1. Kim Diment says:

    Dear Sarah Baillie,
    Thank God someone is finally seeing the root cause of this poor Earth’s problems. Almost all threatening issues with the environment are a result of the human race not addressing the overpopulation problem. Thank you for recognizing it and being brave enough to put it out there. Most sincerely, Kim Diment

  2. I LOVE that you wrote this!!! I see so many people that will be bringing cloth bags to shop, recycling and even adopting plant based diets for ecological reasons yet…..are having 3 – 4 children! Why?!?! Selective denial thats why. Thinking that certain actions will make up for overpopulation or simply just refusing to acknowledge it so that you can satisfy a desire for a large family is horribly selfish. The more we spread this information the better. Hopefully this generation and future ones will opt to stay in the 0-1 child range.

    • Kate Love-Kanow says:

      Sarah L, we opted for one child. My husband would like another and at times I’ve felt that tug too. But what’s stopped me and what will keep us a family of 3, is my concern of overpopulation and what it’s doing to this planet, our resources, and the other species who share this planet with us.
      I feel bad but I roll my eyes when I read about people or companies who are “doing so much” to be green when really they just, say, recycle and use LED bulbs. We’re past the point of small actions…people and companies need to take huge, drastic steps!

  3. Carol A. says:

    Human overpopulation is an animal-rights issue, too. Seven billion people around the globe devour up to 60 BILLION sentient birds and mammals, not to mention the trillions of sea life. All animal-based agriculture exploits, harms, and kills animals. Male and female animals and birds are sexually assaulted in order to force them to breed and bear young who will then be taken from their mothers by farmers and ranchers.

    The planet doesn’t need MORE people! We need to reduce population, not stimulate population growth! There were 3 billion people when I was born. Why would I want to feed MORE people when animals have nowhere to escape humanity’s expansion and encroachment of available space? Whenever a conflict occurs, it’s the animals who will be “culled” as “nuisances.”

  4. Linda Andrews says:

    IN ADDITION TO, not “INSTEAD OF,” planting trees, recycling, etc. Contraception is very important, but planting trees and recycling are also very important, and, women past child-bearing age don’t NEED contraceptives.

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