Posts by Christine C.

June 10, 2013

“Crow After Roe” Looks at Inequities in Reproductive Healthcare

Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo, co-authors of the new book “Crow After Roe: How ‘Separate But Equal’ Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That,” joined Amy Goodman of Democracy Now last week to discuss states where laws have “practically regulated abortion out of existence.”

You can also follow their excellent reporting at RH Reality Check: Marty is the publication’s senior political reporter, and Pieklo is a senior legal analyst.

March 13, 2013

Women’s History: The New York Times Reviews “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

Our Bodies, Ourselves 1973 cover

Forty years ago today, The New York Times reviewed “Our Bodies, Ourselves” under the headline “Thinking About the Thinkable.”

It’s fascinating to see how the book was received in the mainstream press — and, in this case, how one of the most prominent book reviewers of the late 20th century, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, approached the text.

I admit I was surprised to see his byline when I looked up the review, after being alerted to the anniversary on Twitter via @Feministory.

Lehmann-Haupt was the senior daily book reviewer for the Times back then, a position he held from 1969 to 2001. But as he acknowledges up front, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see the first women’s health book of its kind reviewed by a man.

He writes that he took on the review “first, because the book looked useful and I wanted an excuse to read it carefully, and second, because those members of the movement I respect have often argued that women’s liberation means men’s liberation, and it is an argument I am willing to try on.”

His perspective is laudable, although sometimes Lehmann-Haupt seems to forget it’s not really for or about him.

The review is of the first edition published by Simon & Schuster. Prior to 1973, the book had appeared in two other formats: In 1970, a group of women printed and stapled together a 193-page course booklet, “Women and Their Bodies,” based on their own research and exploration of women’s health and social/political issues. The booklet is available online (download “Women and Their Bodies” [PDF]).

In 1971, they changed the name to “Our Bodies, Ourselves” — to emphasize women taking full ownership of their bodies — and New England Free Press republished it that same year, selling 250,000 copies, mostly by word of mouth. That edition was one of 88 books selected by the Library of Congress for the 2012 exhibit “Books That Shaped America.”

The strong demand taxed the small New England Press, which is when Simon & Schuster stepped in (read the preface to the 1973 edition).

By then the need for the book had been well established; “it doesn’t much matter whether male reviewers like it or not,” Lehmann-Haupt wrote. That does not, however, stop him from dragging out the discussion:

But do I like it? you are still wondering. Let me duck the question a moment longer by saying that since the book was written collectively — with, for example, “A Boston gay collective” contributing the chapter on Lesbianism, “In Amerika They Call Us Dykes”; and several older women helping out on the chapter covering menopause — it was never expected that everyone would be pleased with all the contents, not even the women who put the book together.

Nor does he have a problem with declaring what any “sensible” woman would appreciate:

I don’t see how any sensible woman — even an antifeminist one — could fail to be enlightened by the book’s lucidly informative chapters on “The Anatomy and Physiology of Reproduction and Sexuality,” on nutrition, exercise, venereal disease, childbearing and postpartum emotional problems; or even by the philosophy that informs them, to wit, that knowledge of one’s body is essential to control of one’s body, and that control of one’s body is essential to living in contemporary America. (As you will see if you read the book, it’s a more radical idea than it may sound.)

He makes 40 years seem like like yesterday.

And then:

On the other hand, I can imagine that some women — even halfway liberated ones — may not agree with the book’s extreme open-mindedness on the questions of birth control and abortion, or its specific conclusion that “it is a myth that the infant will be psychologically damaged unless the mother is always present.”

Let that last line sink in for a moment.

Lehmann-Haupt concludes with his “quibbles” and his findings:

I am still trying to dovetail all the talk about “living less in our heads” and responding “to our feelings” with the book’s overriding message that women must know and think about their bodies in order to get control of their lives. (I’m sure there’s a way to reconcile these two messages, but trying to find it has me climbing an epistemological wall.)

But I learned a great deal from this book that I did not know before, or had somehow forgotten. And if the authors are correct in their belief that one of the major reasons why men oppress women is because “of the male fear and envy of the generative and sexual powers of women” — and I think they are — why then it will do no harm at all for men to read “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and expend a little rational thought on these powers. Nor will it do much harm for a male to review it.

For all my quibbles, to have a man in 1973 so willing to join the feminist movement is a credit to him — and to the book.

The ninth and newest edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” published in 2011, was named one of Library Journal’s best consumer health books of the year. Find out what the fuss is (still) all about.

February 28, 2013

Delivery of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Members of Congress Launches on Capitol Hill

Erin Thornton, Judy Norsigian, Rep. Jim McGovern, and Christy Turlington Burns

Last fall, following a sex-ed road trip with The Ladydrawers to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to former Rep. Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” fame), Our Bodies Ourselves launched Educate Congress, a campaign to deliver the book to all members of Congress and key administration officials.

The basic premise: Everyone deserves access to accurate information concerning women’s reproductive and sexual health — especially those who write the laws.

Today OBOS kicked off delivery of the book, as Judy Norsigian, OBOS executive director and one of the original authors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” hand-delivered copies of the newest edition to about 20 legislators and staff members.

The point was made that the problem isn’t just poorly chosen words; rather, a lot more needs to be done to advance evidence-based health policy.

Norsigian walked the halls of Capitol Hill with Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts, and EMC’s executive director, Erin Thornton. They submitted EMC’s petition to female members of Congress, asking them to support policies that protect the health and well-being of girls and women around the world, especially those that will reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

Doing this on the day that the House finally passed the Violence Against Women Act made it particularly poignant.

NWHN interns Allyson Reddy and Grace Adofoli with Judy Norsigian and Rep. Chellie Pingree

Thanks to Allyson Reddy and Grace Adofoli, interns at the National Women’s Health Project, the book launch was a success. More books will be delivered in the coming weeks, until every member of Congress has, in their office, up-to-date information they can rely on when drafting bills that have a real impact on girls and women.

A big thank you to the supporters of Educate Congress! And a special shout out to fellow road-trippers Anne Elizabeth Moore, Rachel N. Swanson, Nicole Boyett and Sara Drake; Congress scheduler Christina Knowles; everyone who participated in the making of the Educate Congress video, especially Paul Noble and Anthony Cupaiuolo (bro!); and Malcolm Woods, who helped organize the Educate Congress launch at the National Press Club and kept the word going on Twitter (with the aid of “The West Wing” staff). All of you made this happen!

Erin Thornton, Christy Turlington Burns (holding the film “No Woman, No Cry”) Rep. Gary Peters, Judy Norsigian, Allyson Reddy, and Grace Adofoli

February 26, 2013

Women’s History Makers: “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

Boston Women s Health Book Collective MAKERS

Makers: Women Who Make America,” the PBS/AOL documentary, debuts tonight on PBS at 8 p.m. (check local listings). If you’re on Twitter, join the discussion during the broadcast at #MAKERSchat.

Narrated by Meryl Streep, the film covers the last 50 years of the women’s movement — the accomplishments and setbacks that followed the publication of “The Feminine Mystique.”

“Most of us have seen the old television commercials before, those 1950s ads that marketed products by telling women how stupid and disappointing they were. So, in the beginning, this program feels like old news (one generation has seen it all before, and the other doesn’t care), but the narrative quickly comes together and still has the power to astound,” writes Anita Gates in The New York Times.

Extended Interviews Online
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” founders Judy Norsigian and Miriam Hawley were interviewed for Makers about the medical and social conditions that prompted a group of women to research, publish and distribute their own findings on women’s health and sexuality. Their interviews are available online.

“You have to understand that back in the late 60s, 98 percent of OB-GYNS were male. About 90 percent of all physicians were male. There was a tremendous amount of condescencion and paternalism,” says Norsigian, who is also executive director of the organization Our Bodies Ourselves.

“I remember one doctor saying to me, dear dear, you’re a smart intelligent woman — you ought to have more children,” says Hawley, later noting, “I kept saying we’re going to sell a million copies. And people kept laughing till we did.”

Produced by filmmakers Dyllan McGee, Betsy West and Peter Kunhardt, the Makers website proclaims to have the largest video collection of women’s stories. It is quite a mix. Browse through the offerings and you’ll find author Alice Walker, food pioneer Alice Waters, racecar driver Danica Patrick, artist/architect May Lin, comic creator Cathy Guisewite, actress Rita Moreno, former college president Ruth Simmons, and coal miner Barbara Burns, who fought sexual harassment in the workplace.

And, of course, Gloria Steinem.

And, suprisingly, Phyllis Schlafly.

Women’s Health Activism
Some of our colleagues in health activism are featured, including Susan Love, who discusses innovative breast cancer research as well as her own coming out story:   “Living out loud really allows you to be who are and to get into the work you need to do as opposed to spending a lot of time trying to protect yourself.”

Byllye Avery, founder of the Black Women’s Health Project (now the Black Women’s Health Imperative) and co-founder of Raising Women’s Voices, discusses access to abortion and opening a women’s health clinic in Florida — and working to “de-medicalize” the interior with shag carpeting, posters on the ceiling, and pot holders on the stirrups (to eliminate the chill). She also addresses the importance of community and self-care on multiple levels.

“Once you can get the emotional stuff straight, then you can start talking about the body,” says Avery. “Because if I’m worrying about someone coming home and beating me, I’m hardly thinking about I haven’t had a pap smear in five years.”

Sharing personal stories, Avery reminisces about her late husband, who died suddenly of a heart attack in 1970. Before his death, he recommended “The Feminine Mystique,” which he thought she would appreciate.

“I hated that I didn’t read it before he died so we could have had some discussions, ’cause I could have confronted him about the dishes,” she said.

New Voices, New Issues is a historian’s treasure trove, yet it also covers history in the making with the inclusion of younger women like media creator Tavi Gevinson, editor of Rookie magazine (Gevinson praised the new “Our Bodies, Ourselves“), feminist organizer Shelby Knox, and youth organizer Maritza Alarcón, whose energy about her work is infectious.

The Makers blog has pulled together quotes around timely themes, such as “5 Views on Job Flexibility” and “5 Views on Women in Film– Past, Present and Future.”

One of Norsigian’s online interview segments addresses finding support, and she concludes with this advice:

“Don’t go it alone, if possible. Get in place the kinds of friends and families around you that will make it possible to be a good parent, a good co-worker, and to contribute to the community around you. I think it’s important that we find space to be part of a larger community, that we don’t just see ourselves as part of a nuclear family.”

Updated to reflect that the OBOS interviews are available online and not in the film itself.

November 6, 2012

What Today’s Election Means for Women

National Women's Law Center voter education

Health care reform. Access to contraception. Increased protections for women against violence. Equal pay.

A lot hangs on this presidential election.

On the state level, personhood amendments that grant fertilized embryos all the rights of a born human didn’t make it onto any ballot, but two states, Florida and Montana, have put restrictive abortion initiatives before voters.

The National Women’s Law Center has published a voter education section with a number of useful links, including fact sheets on issues affecting women and great images to share — like the one on the left by Jen Sorensen.

For more on the election and the importance of women voters, visit Women’s Vote Watch 2012, a project of the Center for American Women and Politics that tracks and analyzes polling data. Here’s a section on the gender gap and voting.

Finally, if long lines get you down, just think of Galicia Malone of Dolton, Ill., who stopped to vote this morning on her way to give birth.

The clerk’s office said Malone’s water had already broken when she made the stop to vote in her first presidential election.

“If only all voters showed such determination to vote,” [Cook County Clerk David] Orr said. “My hat goes off to Galicia for not letting anything get in the way of voting. What a terrific example she is showing for the next generation, especially her new son or daughter.”

And remember, no matter who wins, we still have to work on educating Congress about women’s health …

November 2, 2012

Indiegogo Promotes Educate Congress Campaign!

En Español

Indiegogo homepage

We are over-the-moon thrilled today to announce that Indiegogo is featuring the Educate Congress campaign on its homepage. What an honor for Our Bodies Ourselves!

A huge thanks to all our supporters for donations and driving attention to our efforts — all of you helped to rock the gogofactor!

More good news: we’re also almost one-third of the way to our goal of $25,000! Think we can reach 40 percent this weekend? With your help, we may make it!

There’s no shortage of reasons to educate Congress, starting with the most blatant and insulting comments about rape, abortion, and women’s health that legislators and political candidates just can’t seem to stop making (welcome to the club, John Koster).

We’re also concerned about numerous policy issues and legislation affecting reproductive health that don’t reflect evidence-based information. As one supporter wrote:

As a registered nurse in community health I know how vital accurate information is. … Join me to improve public health by educating our most vulnerable and underserved congressional representatives!

Another shared why he’s backing Educate Congress:

I am particularly pleased to support this cause because I am male, and I want to make it clear to those who would consider this a self-serving cause for females that enlightened males recognize how much “Our Bodies, Our Selves” contributes to the well-being of all humans, regardless of gender.

You can view more messages and add your own by clicking the comments tab at Educate Congress. We’re so grateful for the enthusiasm we’re getting from all corners — including Indiegogo!


Indiegogo Promueve Nuestra Campaña para educar al Congreso!

Hoy estamos muy emocionadas por anunciar que el sitio Indiegogo tiene nuestra campaña de Educate Congress (Educar al Congreso) (enlace en inglés) en su página principal.  ¡Que gran honor para Our Bodies Ourselves!

Queremos agradecer a todos aquello/as que nos han apoyado. Gracias por sus donaciones y por atraer atención hacia nuestros esfuerzos. ¡Todo/as ustedes nos ayudaron a llegar tan lejos!

Más buenas noticias: ¡Ya tenemos casi un tercio de nuestra meta de $25,000! ¿Crees que podamos llegar a 40% este fin de semana?  ¡Con tu ayuda, si podemos!

No hay falta de razones para educar al Congreso, empezando por los insultos más obvios sobre las violaciones, el aborto, y la salud de las mujeres que los legisladores y candidatos políticos no paran de decir (bienvenido al club, John Koster).

También estamos preocupadas sobre el gran número de políticas y leyes sobre la salud reproductiva que no reflejan información basada en buena evidencia. Como ha dicho una persona que nos apoya:

Siendo una enfermera de salud comunitaria entiendo lo importante que es la información. ¡Unete a mi para mejorar la salud pública educando a aquellos que son más vulnerables y a representantes del congreso que no se merecen su puesto!

Otro seguidor compartió porque él también apoya nuestros esfuerzos:

Me gusta esta causa particularmente porque soy hombre, y quiero que sea claro para aquellos que consideran que esta es una causa exclusiva para mujeres que hay hombres cultos que reconocen cuanto “Our Bodies Ourselves” contribuye al bienestar de todos los humanos, sin tener en cuenta el género.

Puedes ver mas mensajes y añadir uno si haces click en los comentarios de Educate Congress. Estamos muy agradecidas por todo el entusiasmo por todos lados – incluyendo Indiegogo!

October 12, 2012

Ryan/Biden Debate: Science, Religion and Women’s Health Questions Never Asked

Last night’s quick-fire sparring between Vice President Joe Biden and GOP candidate Rep. Paul Ryan made for an engaging debate — and a well-organized one, thanks to the moderator, ABC news reporter Martha Raddatz.

Still, there were many subject areas that went left un-touched — immigration, rights of workers and equal pay, environmental regulation, LGBT issues, for starters — and it took quite a while to get to one of the most important issues framing this campaign: women’s access to reproductive health care.

Imani Gandy, who tweets as Angry Black Lady, called it out with this tweet:

You have 23 minutes to start talking about uteri before I cut mine out and send it to Paul Ryan. Seriously. Don’t make me do it. #VPdebates

The question did eventually come, sort of:

Martha Raddatz: We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country. Please talk personally about this, if you could.

Asking two Catholic men to talk personally about abortion is, well, problematic. The issue begs for a serious discussion around facts and policy, not men’s feelings.

“I really wish she hadn’t framed abortion as a personal issue for a couple of Catholic guys,” Lucinda Marshall wrote today. “Not to mention that we really need to discuss reproductive rights as a whole, not just reduce it to the abortion question.”

Amy Davidson, however, noted the opening it provided: “Making religion the frame meant that the discussion could range well beyond the dilemma of abortion in women’s lives. (Ryan: ‘Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country.’)”

Amanda Marcotte wrote that the candidates gave “polished, talking-point heavy answers,” but Ryan bringing up contraception, without prodding and in the context of religion, was notable:

The only remarkable thing about the exchange is that contraception is now such an important target for the anti-choicers that Ryan brought the subject up, even though Raddatz didn’t ask about it, pivoting quickly from abortion to talk about the Catholic Church’s issue with contraception: “Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals.”

As with abortion, Ryan’s religion teaches that contraception is wrong, though, when pressed, he wasn’t as eager to suggest that what is taught in the pews should be enforced by the law. Instead, he spoke of “religious liberty,” by which he means giving the employer the right to deny an employee insurance benefits she has paid for because he thinks Jesus disapproves of sex for pleasure instead of procreation.

Ryan made the point that his Catholic faith isn’t all that guides his views on abortion. “That’s a factor, of course,” he said. “But it’s also because of reason and science.” Here’s Davidson again:

“Science,” in this case, meant looking at an ultrasound image of his first child with his wife—an experience that is widely shared and rightly regarded with wonder. (The tiny image he saw was the source of his daughter’s nickname, Bean, he said.) And then, “the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother”—carefully construed, as even this very restrictive list is more than Ryan, left to his own devices, would allow. Ryan doesn’t think that rape victims should have access to abortion.

We don’t look to personal views on religion to frame debates about when to involve ground troops in global conflicts or how to shape tax policy, but we allow our politicians to fall back on their religion when it comes to women’s health. And that’s a problem.

Here’s a sampling of questions I wish Raddatz would have asked, using the same level of specific questioning she brought to other topics: You mentioned science and reason — why are faulty scientific claims being used to justify opposition to contraception, which has been shown to decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies and abortion? How can someone be “pro-life” and support a bill that shows no regard for the life of the mother? What, exactly, is the definition of “forcible rape”?

If we really want to go to religion: Since Italy, which is overwhelmingly Catholic, approved the sale of the emergency contraception Ella (which an Ella representative says wouldn’t have happened if it were considered to induce abortion), why is there still so much debate around the morning-after pill?

And in response to Ryan’s assertion during the debate that the Democratic party supports abortion “without restriction and with taxpayer funding”: Isn’t that, in fact, malarkey?

Raddatz did return to the question of abortion with a different angle: “If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?” to which Ryan responded: “We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.”

That led to a brief discussion of Supreme Court nominees, with Biden stating: ”The next president will get one or two Supreme Court nominees. That’s how close Roe v. Wade is. Just ask yourself, with Robert Bork being the chief adviser on the court for — for Mr. Romney, who do you think he’s likely to appoint?”

And shortly thereafter, it was over, leaving many viewers as frustrated as they were before the first question about uteri was asked.

October 1, 2012

What Do You Think Congress Needs to Know About Sexual and Reproductive Health?

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican candidate in Missouri for U.S. Senate, made news again last week for his comments on the ladies — this time for asserting that his opponent, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, acted “much more ladylike” during the 2006 campaign, and for suggesting that it’s fine for businesses to pay women less than men.

Well, then.

We do have Akin to thank, however, for sparking an upcoming Congressional Pop Quiz on gender, sex and reproductive health designed by The Ladydrawers. But first they need you to share what you think Congress needs to know about sexual and reproductive health. Here’s info from the call for participation:

The latest Truthout strip asks readers to submit questions for a Congressional Pop Quiz on the workings of your body. We’d like you—the cartoonists, the ladydrawers, the gender-aware media makers—to submit illustrated questions. You can use the questions from the Truthout comments section, generate queries among your own communities, or just straight-up ask Akin to identify the different between your vag and, say, a praying mantis. Which, actually, is pretty damn good at shutting “that whole thing down.”

We’d like questions on sex and reproductive health, of course, but questions about gender seem appropriate too. Marriage, partner benefits—it seems a little bit endless, what we must ensure Congress knows before further legislation is enacted. Anything. Be creative. Be funny. Be accurate. Use evidence-based resources, and cite them, so interested parties (R, D) can read more.

Most important: submit them to us here at or on our Tumblr by October 15. We’ll publish everything we receive here and on our Tumblr that fits the above guidelines (so include your website in your submission for proper credit), and choose the very best ones to print or publish in a quiz we’ll send directly to congress. (We might even have a way to pay you.) Line art only, please!

Can’t draw? Submit your text question on Truthout’s comment section, work with a friend who does like to draw, or do it anyway. You’re the expert: on your body, and on what you want to say about how it should be legislated.

The deadline is Oct. 15, so get going!

Having road tripped with The Ladydrawers in August to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and sex-ed books and comics to Akin’s office, I can pretty much guarantee that they’re the most awesome rabble rousers this side of the Mississippi (view more photos and drawings from that adventure).

The trip’s urgency was set off by Akin’s unfortunate comments about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy. Since we were in the neighborhood, we also stopped by McCaskill’s office and a training for sex-ed educators, dropping knowledge and spreading the word that everyone deserves access to accurate, evidence-based information on reproductive health. In fact, we’re about to launch a larger-scale delivery effort; more on that soon!

August 23, 2012

Road Trip: Delivering “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and Sex Education Books to Rep. Todd Akin

Why mail the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” when you can deliver it in person? Yes, a Chicago-to-Missouri road trip to Rep. Todd Akin’s office begins this afternoon to deliver copies of the newly revised and updated 40th anniversary edition of the landmark book.**

Seriously, who needs accurate women’s health information more than a member of Congress who thinks women can magically ward off pregnancies if their rape was “legitimate”? (So, what amazing feats have you accomplished with your uterus today?)

I’m traveling with the always awesome Anne Elizabeth Moore and a crew of Ladydrawers – Sara Drake, Rachel N. Swanson and Nicole Boyett - who are packing art supplies and snacks, making us pretty much invincible.

Our journey to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Akin’s office will kick off at Women & Children First in Chicago, where we’ll scoop up their four remaining copies of the book and combine it with other educational reading material. Then we’ll hit the highway, 55 South to be precise. Wave when we go by!

Our plan is to deliver the books in person Friday morning at Akin’s St. Louis office. Stay tuned for updates from the road, and if you’re not already following us on Facebook or Twitter, start now.

In the meantime, how can you show your support for an educated Congress that believes rape is rape, period, and all women deserve access to basic reproductive health services? Visit and join us!

**Hat tip to St. Louis Post-Dispatch Book Editor Jane Henderson, whose writing inspired this road trip.


June 25, 2012

Our Bodies, Our Votes: Fight Back Against Lawmakers Restricting Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Care

Our Bodies, Our Votes photo submissionAs OBOS readers are all too aware, politicians have consistently prioritized their own agendas over women’s health — and never more so than in the past couple of years. With lawmakers stepping up efforts to impose severe restrictions on contraception and the full range of reproductive health services, a woman’s access to basic health care in the United States is not guaranteed.

Our Bodies Ourselves is responding to these attacks with a national education campaign — Our Bodies, Our Votes — that urges everyone to use their political power to thwart attacks on women’s reproductive rights and access to essential health services.

We hope you’ll join us and spread the word! Here’s a handy press release in an easy-to-share format, and if you’re on Twitter use #obov2012.

We’re kicking off the campaign with:

* Our Bodies, Our Votes bumper stickersorder stickers here for a minimal donation to OBOS (3 stickers for $10!).

* A Tumblr site,, where people can post photos of Our Bodies, Our Votes stickers appearing across the country.

* A new, with information on contraception and abortion, along with resources on reproductive health and justice.

Our Bodies, Our Votes photo submissionThe uptick in laws affecting women’s health isn’t only frustrating patients. As Rachel noted earlier today, physician and abortion provider Deborah Oyer has a letter in The New England Journal of Medicine — “Playing Politics with the Doctor–Patient Relationship” — that outlines how laws restricting abortion access threaten the relationship between doctors and patients.

It’s a point Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, made in today’s press release announcing Our Bodies, Our Votes:

Requiring doctors to perform procedures that are not medically indicated, or to provide false information about medical evidence, violates women’s rights and leaves doctors with an untenable dilemma: Violate state law, or betray their professional obligations to patients.

At, we’ve compiled historical and current information about abortion and contraception, including helpful phone numbers and resources. And there are a number of news organizations and advocacy groups listed that provide smart coverage and analysis of reproductive health issues.

Tell us what you think! We welcome your involvement in making Our Bodies, Our Votes a campaign for change.

May 14, 2012

Obama Addresses Barnard Grads: “Fight for a Seat at the Head of the Table”

Below is the text of President Obama’s remarks at Barnard College’s commencement ceremony (as provided by the White House Office of Communications). Let us know what you think! 

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Please, please have a seat. Thank you. (Applause.)

Thank you, President Spar, trustees, President Bollinger. Hello, Class of 2012! (Applause.) Congratulations on reaching this day. Thank you for the honor of being able to be a part of it.

There are so many people who are proud of you — your parents, family, faculty, friends — all who share in this achievement. So please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) To all the moms who are here today, you could not ask for a better Mother’s Day gift than to see all of these folks graduate. (Applause.)

I have to say, though, whenever I come to these things, I start thinking about Malia and Sasha graduating, and I start tearing up and — (laughter) — it’s terrible. I don’t know how you guys are holding it together. (Laughter.)

I will begin by telling a hard truth: I’m a Columbia college graduate. (Laughter and applause.) I know there can be a little bit of a sibling rivalry here. (Laughter.) But I’m honored nevertheless to be your commencement speaker today — although I’ve got to say, you set a pretty high bar given the past three years. (Applause.) Hillary Clinton — (applause) — Meryl Streep — (applause) — Sheryl Sandberg — these are not easy acts to follow. (Applause.)

But I will point out Hillary is doing an extraordinary job as one of the finest Secretaries of State America has ever had. (Applause.) We gave Meryl the Presidential Medal of Arts and Humanities. (Applause.) Sheryl is not just a good friend; she’s also one of our economic advisers. So it’s like the old saying goes — keep your friends close, and your Barnard commencement speakers even closer. (Applause.) There’s wisdom in that. (Laughter.)

Now, the year I graduated — this area looks familiar — (laughter) — the year I graduated was 1983, the first year women were admitted to Columbia. (Applause.) Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. Music was all about Michael and the Moonwalk. (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do it! (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: No Moonwalking. (Laughter.) No Moonwalking today. (Laughter.)

We had the Walkman, not iPods. Some of the streets around here were not quite so inviting. (Laughter.) Times Square was not a family destination. (Laughter.) So I know this is all ancient history. Nothing worse than commencement speakers droning on about bygone days. (Laughter.) But for all the differences, the Class of 1983 actually had a lot in common with all of you. For we, too, were heading out into a world at a moment when our country was still recovering from a particularly severe economic recession. It was a time of change. It was a time of uncertainty. It was a time of passionate political debates.

You can relate to this because just as you were starting out finding your way around this campus, an economic crisis struck that would claim more than 5 million jobs before the end of your freshman year. Since then, some of you have probably seen parents put off retirement, friends struggle to find work. And you may be looking toward the future with that same sense of concern that my generation did when we were sitting where you are now.

Of course, as young women, you’re also going to grapple with some unique challenges, like whether you’ll be able to earn equal pay for equal work; whether you’ll be able to balance the demands of your job and your family; whether you’ll be able to fully control decisions about your own health.

And while opportunities for women have grown exponentially over the last 30 years, as young people, in many ways you have it even tougher than we did. This recession has been more brutal, the job losses steeper. Politics seems nastier. Congress more gridlocked than ever. Some folks in the financial world have not exactly been model corporate citizens. (Laughter.)

No wonder that faith in our institutions has never been lower, particularly when good news doesn’t get the same kind of ratings as bad news anymore. Every day you receive a steady stream of sensationalism and scandal and stories with a message that suggest change isn’t possible; that you can’t make a difference; that you won’t be able to close that gap between life as it is and life as you want it to be.

My job today is to tell you don’t believe it. Because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher. I’ve seen your passion and I’ve seen your service. I’ve seen you engage and I’ve seen you turn out in record numbers. I’ve heard your voices amplified by creativity and a digital fluency that those of us in older generations can barely comprehend. I’ve seen a generation eager, impatient even, to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course.

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May 14, 2012

Learn More About Inequities in Breast Cancer: Race and Place Matter

Breast Cancer Action is offering a free, one-hour webinar examining the racial and socio-economic factors that influence the health of individuals and communities.

Titled “Inequities in Breast Cancer: Race and Place Matter,” the webinar will take place Tuesday, May 15, at 2 p.m. PDT/5 p.m. EST (register here) and again on Wednesday, May 16, at 11 a.m. PDT/2 p.m. EST (register here).

“Inequities in breast cancer risk and outcomes vary among different racial and ethnic communities and are well documented,” writes Sahru Keiser, BCA program associate of education and mobilization. “In our efforts to address and end this disease, health activists, practitioners, and legislators must focus on the social and economic context in which the disease arises.”

Keiser is presenting the webinar with Irene Yen, associate professor of medicine and associate director of the Experiential Learning, Health & Society Pathway at University of California, San Francisco. Among the questions they’ll address:

Why are white women more likely to develop breast cancer, yet African American, Latina and Samoan women are more likely to die from the disease? Why do women of color tend to develop more aggressive breast cancers at earlier ages than white women? Why are we seeing the sharpest rise in breast cancer rates in Japanese women in Los Angeles?

Topics covered will include:

• How where we live, work and play defines our access to good health

• Breast cancer inequities in under-served communities

• How breast cancer research acknowledges race

• Inequities in breast cancer clinical trials

• How you can work for health equity

Learn more at Breast Cancer Action about environmental links to breast cancer and the importance of social justice. And visit BCA’s Think Before You Pink project, which raises awareness about conflicts of interest in pink-ribbon marketing — like KFC’s Buckets for the Cure campaign that promoted fast food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods.

One of the current campaigns takes on Eli Lilly, the only company in the world making and distributing rBGH, an artificial growth hormone found in many dairy products that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer. BCA is working to remove rBGH from the food supply completely. Free Think Before You Pink toolkits featuring resources and information are available here.

April 3, 2012

Health Benefits: What Women Won, and May Lose, in the Supreme Court’s Dark, Dark, Place

President Obama on Monday said he was “confident” the Supreme Court will uphold the Affordable Care Act, adding that overturning it would be an “unprecedented, extraordinary step.”

I think it’s important — because I watched some of the commentary last week — to remind people that this is not an abstract argument. People’s lives are affected by the lack of availability of healthcare, the inaffordability of healthcare, their inability to get healthcare because of preexisting conditions.

The law that’s already in place has already given 2.5 million young people healthcare that wouldn’t otherwise have it. There are tens of thousands of adults with preexisting conditions who have healthcare right now because of this law. Parents don’t have to worry about their children not being able to get healthcare because they can’t be prevented from getting healthcare as a consequence of a preexisting condition. That is part of this law.

And, as of 2014, adults would also be protected. Women could no longer be denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions such as pregnancy or domestic violence. The law would also eliminate gender rating, in which women end up paying more than men for insurance coverage.

And there’s more, via Raising Women’s Voices: A top 10 list of benefits for women under health care reform; specifics on how the law is already helping young women; and more details on how it supports women of color.

Back to Obama’s remarks:

Millions of seniors are paying less for prescription drugs because of this law. Americans all across the country have greater rights and protections with respect to the insurance companies, and are getting preventive care because of this law.

So, that’s just the part that’s already been implemented. That doesn’t speak to the 30 million people who stand to gain coverage once it’s fully implemented in 2014.

And I think it’s important, I think the American people understand and I think the justices should understand that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with preexisting conditions can actually get healthcare.

ThinkProgress healthcare infographic We have to wait until sometime in June to find out if Obama is right, but there’s been no shortage of guess work underway to determine 1.) whether the Supreme Court will uphold the individual mandate requiring almost every American to buy health insurance; and 2.) what will become if health care reform if it does not.

Writing in The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin notes that the “heavy burden” of justification for the mandate — which Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked Donald Verrilli, the solicitor general, to address — should instead be placed on the law’s challengers.

“The involvement of the federal government in the health-care market is not unprecedented; it dates back nearly fifty years, to the passage of Medicare and Medicaid,” writes Toobin. “The forty million uninsured Americans whose chances for coverage are riding on the outcome of the case are already entered ‘into commerce,’ because others are likely to pay their health-care costs.”

“Acts of Congress, like the health-care law, are presumed to be constitutional,” he later adds, “and it is—or should be—a grave and unusual step for unelected, unaccountable, life-tenured judges to overrule the work of the democratically elected branches of government.” Toobin then demonstrates how the justices’ questions reflected a troublesome meddling in policies set by Congress.

The Individual Mandate – A Not-So-Brief History
The individual mandate, as explained in this NPR story, has Republican roots dating back to 1989. Rachel Maddow discussed the party-line history during a recent segment, summed up as: “When Republicans proposed it — great idea, a conservative solution. When a Democrat has the idea, it’s socialism, tyranny and unconstitutional.”

Though Republicans circa 2012 would like Americans to believe the individual mandate is indeed “unprecedented,” Linda Greenhouse, who covered the Supreme Court for The New York Times for 30 years and who now writes a column on legal issues, applies the description to the politics of this debate:

What’s unprecedented is the singular determination of the Republicans both on Capitol Hill and in the statehouses to deprive President Obama of his major domestic achievement. Republican officeholders in all 26 states joined together in the case now known as United States Department of Health and Human Services v. State of Florida. In 22 of those states, the officeholder was the attorney general. In four states with Democratic attorneys general (Nevada, Wyoming, Iowa and Mississippi), Republican governors filed in their own names. If any of them noted any irony in the fact that not so long ago, the individual mandate was an idea cooked up by conservative policy wonks to counter more fundamental reform sought by the Clinton administration, they offer no sign.

The countless unprecedented things that Congress has done over the centuries were not, for that reason, unconstitutional. Social Security, Medicare, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa), and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, the 1986 law passed to prevent hospitals from refusing to care for uninsured patients in acute distress, all come to mind. (From the perspective of today’s toxic politics, it’s a miracle that any of these laws actually got passed, but that’s a separate issue.) So there must be some problem with the Affordable Care Act other than “never before.”

There are other federal mandates involving health care already on the books, including the Medicare payroll tax on workers and employers, and the 1996 Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act, which requires plans offering maternity coverage to pay for at least a 48-hour hospital stay (96 hours following a c-section).

Isn’t It Ironic (Don’t You Think)
Some Republicans who can’t help but fly into an apoplectic rage upon hearing the term “mandate” in the context of health care reform remain surprisingly calm when mandating medical procedures for women.

Yes, I’m referring to government-mandated ultrasounds. Currently, seven states — most recently Virginia — mandate that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on a woman seeking to have an abortion. These states, along with more than a dozen others, also require the provider to ask the woman if she’d like to view the image.

The Guttmacher Institute notes: “Since routine ultrasound is not considered medically necessary as a component of first-trimester abortion, the requirements appear to be a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion. Moreover, an ultrasound can add significantly to the cost of the procedure.”

Once again, Maddow breaks down the Republican hypocrisy:

The Road Ahead
The question of whether other parts of the Affordable Care Act can proceed without the individual mandate will continue to be debated until June. If the mandate alone is struck, insurance premiums would likely increase because insurance companies won’t have the built-in benefit of a broader insurance pool.

“Republicans would blame Obama for making health insurance more expensive. Democrats would blame insurers for the higher premiums. In other words: Déjà vu and total gridlock,” writes Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico. Her story explains what’s likely to happen if the Supreme Court strikes just the mandate, or the mandate and insurance reforms, along with the political fall-out if most of the law falls or is upheld.

Josh Gerstein, also of Politico, looks at the effects beyond health care reform: “If the justices knock out key parts of the law or bring down the whole thing, the reverberations could be felt across the legal landscape for generations to come, radically reining in the scope of federal power, according to supporters of the law and others who closely track the high court. And if the justices decide the individual mandate is a constitutional overreach, these observers say, federal labor and environmental laws could be the next on the firing line.”

If you think that seems too dire a prediction, consider Dahlia Lithwick’s reaction to comments made by the court’s conservative justice’s last week: “[A]s the justices pondered whether the individual mandate—that part of the Affordable Care Act that requires most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty—is constitutional, we got a window into the freedom some of the justices long for. And it is a dark, dark place.”

Those who would welcome the disintegration of health care reform include The Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon. He told NPR that if the entire law were to go away, “we would have just dodged this whole nasty debate over religious freedom and abortion.”

Meaning: There would be no increased access to preventive health care such as contraception, breastfeeding support, and screening for breast and cervical cancers and HIV. But hey, women’s health is so darn offensive when you get down to it, better to just cast it off. Thanks, but we’ve been there.

On the other hand, maybe a defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court will open new doors, for everyone.

* * * * * * * * *

Additional Resources
- The National Women’s Law Center posted a short video explaining the legal challenges, why it thinks the law is constitutional, and what women could lose if the law is struck down.
- Jessica Gonzales-Rojas of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health explains more here.
Kaiser Health News coverage of the two-year anniversary of health care reform, from all angles. Plus, a timeline of major implementation milestones and the legal questions involved in the Supreme Court’s review.
Audio excerpts of arguments challenging the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law are posted on the NYT website, along with reporters’ analysis.

March 21, 2012

Supreme Court Ruling on Family & Medical Leave Act “Appalling and Dangerous,” Says Deborah Ness

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that state government workers may not sue their employers for money for violating a part of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act dealing with personal sick leave.

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, which drafted and fought to pass the FMLA, called the decision “an appalling and dangerous ruling that simply cannot stand.”

The case was brought by Daniel Coleman, a Maryland state court employee who was fired after requesting a 10-day medical leave. The state argued that federal law could not be applied because states, as sovereigns, are generally immune from lawsuits seeking monetary damages.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 entitles eligible employees 12 weeks of job-secured leave during any 12-month period for: (A) the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth; (B) the adoption or foster care of a child and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement; (C) care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition; (D) a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position.

The case hinged on whether the sick-leave provision addressed gender bias. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said it did not. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the judgment but did not join Kennedy’s opinion, excerpted below:

Without widespread evidence of sex discrimination or sex stereotyping in the administration of sick leave, it is apparent that the congressional purpose in enacting the self-care provision is unrelated to these supposed wrongs. The legislative history of the self-care provision reveals a concern for the economic burdens on the employee and the employee’s family resulting from illness-related job loss and a concern for discrimination on the basis of illness, not sex. [...] It is true the self-care provision offers some women a benefit by allowing them to take leave for pregnancy-related illnesses; but as a remedy, the provision is not congruent and proportional to any identified constitutional violations.

So since they found no evidence of discrimination or sex stereotyping, the majority found no reason to lift the usual protections against suing a state.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. From the dissent:

The FMLA’s purpose and legislative history reinforce the conclusion that the FMLA, in its entirety, is directed at sex discrimination. Indeed, the FMLA was originally envisioned as a way to guarantee—without singling out women or pregnancy—that pregnant women would not lose their jobs when they gave birth. The self-care provision achieves that aim.

It goes on to provide an interesting history of the development of the FMLA.

“The best way to protect women against losing their jobs because of pregnancy or childbirth, Congress determined, was not to order leaves for women only, for that would deter employers from hiring them,” said Ginsburg, who took the unusual step of summarizing the dissent from the bench, signaling a major disagreement. “Instead, Congress adopted leave polices from which all could benefit.”

Ness, whose organization led a group of 10 civil and workers’ rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Coleman case, was outspoken in her criticism of the court’s decision:

Justice Ginsburg noted that “[t]he plurality pays scant attention to the overarching aim of the FMLA: to make it feasible for women to work while sustaining family life. Over the course of eight years, Congress considered the problem of workplace discrimination against women, and devised the FMLA to reduce sex-based inequalities in leave programs. The self-care provision is a key part of that endeavor, and in my view, a valid exercise of congressional power….”

Even Justice Kennedy’s opinion acknowledged that “[d]ocumented discrimination against women in the general workplace is a persistent, unfortunate reality, and, we must assume, a still prevalent wrong. An explicit purpose of the Congress in adopting the FMLA was to improve workplace conditions for women.”

Today’s ruling underscores how tenuous the rights of workers are in this country, and the urgent imperative for the Senate to confirm only those justices and judges who have a demonstrated commitment to equal rights under the law and a real understanding of the impact of their rulings on women, workers and others who struggle to make ends meet.

For more information, view the Kevin Russell’s coverage at SCOTUSblog, including Kevin Russell’s recap of the oral arguments.

Plus: Earlier this year, Judith Lichtman, a National Partnership for Women and Families senior advisor, presented seven specific recommendations to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on what federal agencies can do in response to discrimination based on pregnancy and caregiving. View her full testimony (pdf).

March 14, 2012

Reading Religion and the Body and Private Bodies, Public Texts

It’s been too long since I visited The Scholar & Feminist online, a webjournal published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW), but I’m glad I chose now to get reacquainted. The current issue is “Religion and the Body,” and it’s well worth a visit.

Guest editor Dominic Wetzel asks in the introduction: “What role does gender, sexuality and the body play in producing the idea that religion, and particularly politicized religion, is equal to conservatism, while secularism is progressive?”

Originally posed during a 2007 conference, “The Politics of Religion and Sexuality,” the question frames this journal issue in both expected and unexpected ways. Divided into three parts, the issue tackles Science, Bodies and the Christian Secular; Islam, Bodies, Politics; and The Art of Queer(ing) Religion.

All articles can be read free online. The issue also includes a related reading list and online resources. And don’t miss the art gallery, featuring a provocative mix of video, mixed media, cartoons and photos. I was particularly struck by “Phallometer,” a deceptively simple piece by Ins Kromminga that captures the restrictive boundaries that define one’s sex.

Plus: BCRW is hosting a public event March 21 that readers in the New York area may be interested in attending. The focus is Karla FC HollowayPrivate Bodies, Pubic Texts ‘s new book, “Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics.” From the event description:

This important and groundbreaking work examines instances where medical issues and information that would usually be seen as intimate, private matters are forced into the public sphere, calling for a new cultural bioethics that attends to the complex histories of race, gender, and class in the US.

Holloway, the James B. Duke Professor of English and Professor of Law at Duke University, will take part in a conversation that also includes:

* Tina Campt, Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Director of the Africana Studies Program at Barnard College.
* Farah Griffin, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies and Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University.
* Saidiya Hartman, Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.
* Rebecca Jordan-Young, Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Barnard College.
* Alondra Nelson, Associate Professor of Sociology and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.

The salon starts at 6:30 p.m. in Sulzberger Parlor, 3rd Floor Barnard Hall. I’m seriously hoping Holloway’s book travels take her to Chicago sometime soon …