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 CNS Story:

PARTNERS-NFP Jul-28-2008 (840 words) xxxn

Contraceptives affect environment too, water expert tells conference

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CNS) -- Mark W. LeChevallier agrees with Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, a pro-life obstetrician and gynecologist, that natural family planning is safe, healthy and effective. But he would add one more characteristic: It's environmentally responsible.

LeChevallier is director of innovation and environmental stewardship at American Water, the largest water and wastewater provider in North America. Along with his wife, he also has been a certified instructor of natural family planning for the past 25 years.

In separate talks July 26 to a national conference in Cherry Hill, LeChevallier and Ruppersberger approached the topic of natural family planning from very different directions but reached similarly positive conclusions.

The July 25-27 conference brought together leaders from diocesan pro-life, family life and social justice offices around the country.

Ruppersberger's talk on "Scientific Advances in Fertility Management" touted the benefits he has seen for his patients and himself since he switched to an NFP-only medical practice in 1999.

LeChevallier shared the podium with Roxana U. Barillas, a domestic policy adviser at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for a discussion on "Toxins, the Environment and the Child in the Womb." He spoke about the drastic effects that discarded contraceptive medicines and devices have been having on the nation's water and animals, especially fish.

In a talk with the daunting title of "Endocrine Disruptions: Chemical Contraceptives in Sewage Effluents," LeChevallier explained that like secondhand smoke, "secondhand estrogens are being released into the environment," to devastating effect on fish, panthers, alligators and other wildlife.

He said the media "did a little bit of a disservice" to the American public when they reported earlier this year that the levels of contaminants found in drinking water could seriously harm humans.

For example, "you would have to drink 100 million gallons to get the dose found in one Tylenol," he said.

But "the synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills can wreak havoc on the sex lives of fish," LeChevallier said, citing reduced penis size in male fish, masculinized female fish and other sex-related changes.

Because the synthetic estrogen is not absorbed well into the body, much of the drug is released into the environment through women's urine, he said. In addition, used contraceptive rings and patches are having a further polluting effect, he said.

Noting that in Europe, drug manufacturers are required to provide a bag for disposal or return of used contraceptive devices, LeChevallier recommended that the U.S. adopt the same policy. "Why do pharmaceutical companies here get a free ride?" he asked.

He said touting the environmental benefits of natural family planning "can be a new way to evangelize youths" and attract them to the church-approved method of postponing pregnancy.

Ruppersberger explained the various forms of natural family planning in use today and said, "If you want to stop the abortion mentality, you have to stop contraception."

He said birth control pills are sometimes prescribed for women with excessive menstrual cramping or bleeding, endometriosis and even acne.

"I have not had any problem in my practice without writing a prescription for birth control," he added. "People don't die from acne, but they do die from complications of birth control."

Ruppersberger said the new tools available to help couples practice natural family planning include the OV watch, which is worn while sleeping and notifies women four days before ovulation; Persona, a handheld fertility device currently available only in Europe; and OvaCue, a fertility monitor that detects electrolytes in a woman's saliva to predict ovulation.

He also said the Internet is increasingly being used to teach natural family planning. "If the evil one can use the Internet for pornography, we can use it to teach NFP and respect for life," he said.

Ruppersberger outlined some of the medical effects of contraceptives on the human body -- cancers, infections, cardiovascular complications, effects on the liver and the death of the woman, not to mention the death of an unborn child in an abortion when contraceptives fail.

The use of contraceptives also has been shown to result in increased depression in the women who take them, decreased self-esteem, increased divorce rates and increased teen promiscuity and pregnancy rates, he said.

Barillas' presentation focused on the "distinctly Catholic approach to environmental concerns," which she said is neither "a new message for us" nor "an issue that is out there just for people who live close to the woods."

Of special concern for Catholics is the fact that "the poor and powerless are most likely to bear the burden of our environmental carelessness," she said.

"The poor, the elderly and persons with disabilities often are exposed to multiple contaminants," Barillas said, adding that children especially are at risk because they suffer "greater exposure pound for pound" and have a "diminished ability to detoxify and excrete many chemical toxins."

Unborn children also face many environmental risks, including lead, mercury, pesticides and other chemicals, she said.

Many of those concerns are being addressed by the Catholic Coalition for Children and a Safe Environment and other organizations, she said.


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