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.
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.