Gina Christian

More than 15 years ago, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a study called “Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns.” The investigation, undertaken by researchers from two major laboratories, showed “an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants” in umbilical cord blood collected by the Red Cross.

Toxins included pesticides, ingredients from consumer products and “wastes from burning coal, gasoline and garbage.”

Just over 10 years later, another study conducted by the University of California and the state-run Biomonitoring California program also found that dozens of environmental pollutants are “passed through the placenta” into the womb, with low income and Latina women often at higher risk.

The EWG study observed that “parents know intuitively that babies in the womb are more vulnerable to the effects of industrial chemicals than adults.” With a highly “porous blood-brain barrier,” developing organs and incomplete systems for detoxifying and excreting substances, children in the womb are “pound-for-pound” more sensitive to harmful chemicals, said the group, adding “the very behaviors and events that prepare the baby for life outside the womb,” such as breathing and swallowing, compound the damage.

A host of health disorders, from cognitive impairment to cancers, have been correlated with in utero toxic chemical exposure, according to EWG, and the consequences can last a lifetime and even extend to future generations.

After the EWG study, one woman raised her rather powerful voice in alarm, describing the report as “a wake-up call” and declaring “we have our marching orders … We must start a drumbeat to ensure that children are born into this world free from exposure to dangerous chemicals so they can reach their full potential.”

That woman was none other than the future House Speaker (and then Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi, and her statement, which you can read here, was issued July 14, 2005 on her office’s letterhead.

Ms. Pelosi specifically noted the study demonstrated “toxic chemicals in our air and water that are linked to cancer, brain damage, and other birth defects have begun circulating in … babies (sic) developing systems even before they have taken their first breath” (italics mine).

“This new scientific data shows that the developing reproductive, hormonal and neurological systems of infants are being disrupted by synthetic chemicals that we are exposed to every day,” she continued (italics mine).

Nowhere in that statement was there mention of, say, “clumps of cells” or “blobs of tissue” that could be tainted by pesticides.

There wasn’t a proviso about “choosing” to ingest said toxins on the grounds of “bodily autonomy,” or about preserving a legal option to do so as a “fundamental human right.”

Nor did Ms. Pelosi issue a summons for “reproductive justice,” which — if that strange phrase is to acquire a meaning beyond code for child murder — one might think could actually apply here.

In contrast to rhetoric that is ever more divorced from the shattered bodies and spirits that are the reality of abortion, terms like “cord blood” bring us back to where life starts, and where each year for 73.3 million children around the world it ends: in the womb.

And increasingly, the most toxic chemicals for unborn children aren’t found in the water supply or in consumer plastics: mifepristone and misoprostol, the abortion pills, are widely available, and highly effective in starving and expelling their victims from what should be the safest place on earth.

Yet something in Ms. Pelosi’s 2005 statement gives me hope.

Once upon a time, her words on what occurs in the womb were quite accurate. Perhaps, by the grace of God, they will be again — and soon, before millions of other children are lost to toxins not only of the body, but of the soul itself.

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Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.