Archive for the ‘Abortion & Reproductive Rights’ Category

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 6, 2013

In Armenia, Abortion Rates are High and Access to Contraception is Limited

Taleen MoughamianTaleen K. Moughamian, a women’s health nurse practitioner in Philadelphia, traveled to Armenia in the fall of 2012. Working with the Children of Armenia Fund, she conducted  health exams, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, and provided contraceptive counseling. The following account is based on her work and conversations with Armenian women.


by Taleen K. Moughamian

The differences between Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and the rest of the country are vast. While Yerevan has most of the modern-day conveniences you could ask for, the villages I visited in the Armavir region have populations between 300 and 1,000, mostly comprised of women.

Their husbands have gone –- off to neighboring countries, especially Russia, to find work. They usually stay away for 10 months out of the year. Some men have even started new families in their work countries.

It was not uncommon to meet women who needed to be treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because their husbands are having extra marital affairs while abroad. They are upfront about this, though it surprised me how openly they talked about it.

I heard so many of them say, “They are men. They have needs. What can we do?”

This has created a huge problem and is one of the reasons why STIs, including HIV, are on the rise in Armenia.

There is limited access to effective contraception, so the rate of abortion, which is legal up to 12 weeks, is high. Most of the women who seek an abortion are married, already have two or three children, and do not feel they can provide for a larger family.

Sex-Selective Abortions
For some women, this means having three or four or even 15 abortions over the course of their lives as they struggle to create a family they can support. The median number of abortions for women over 40 is eight, according to a 1995 study conducted at a Yerevan abortion clinic.

Sex-selection has also become a huge issue. Since women leave their homes and join their husband’s family after marriage, a son provides a source of security for his parents. I met so many women who have had multiple abortions because the sex of the child was not what they had wished; for more data, see this UNFPA report on sex selection in Armenia and this story in The Armenian Weekly.

If you look at recent family planning data, it appears the number of abortions is going down, but from what I observed, that is not necessarily the case. Rather, more abortions are going unreported.

Rise in Unsupervised Abortions
Women are using an over-the-counter medication called Cytotec (the brand name for misoprostol) to induce abortions at home without the supervision of a trained medical professional. Cytotec’s indication is to treat ulcers, but it also acts as an abortifacient. Fifty cents worth of Cytotec can induce an abortion, whereas a surgical abortion usually costs about $35-$50.

When used properly, Cytotec is very safe, even without clinical supervision. But it is most effective when used in combination with a second drug, mifepristone (see more on this below).

Women in the villages I visited were not familiar with the World Health Organization guidelines now used by women all over the world. (Note: Women on Waves offers guidance, based on the WHO research, on how to do an abortion with pills.)

Many Armenian women are therefore in a dangerous situation, as they are using Cytotec without the relevant information about its efficacy or side effects, which can range from an incomplete abortion to bleeding to death.

Barriers to Contraception
As part of my work with the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), I counseled women on birth control options. This has been quite a challenge, as there are so many myths surrounding birth control, and it’s expensive for rural women. One pack of birth control pills costs about $15-20 a month in Armenia. For a village family barely making $100 a month, it is completely unaffordable.

Besides the cost and access issues, social factors also influence a woman’s reproductive health. Although many husbands are supportive, others do not allow their wives to use birth control.

Sometimes the mother-in-law gets involved, too. When a woman in Armenia gets married, she moves in with her husband and his mother. The mother-in-law is usually the matriarch of the family, so she has a lot of pull in decision-making, even when it comes to her daughter-in-law’s reproductive health.

Changing Patterns, Changing Lives
During my last week in Armenia, I met a woman who had come to her village clinic for an abortion. She had two children and this was going to be her fourth abortion. She told me that her husband wants to have another child, but that he’s an alcoholic -– has been since the day they got married –- and he beats her.

She doesn’t think it’s right to bring a child into this world when her life at home is so unstable, and yet she is completely dependent on him for financial security. Living in the village, there are very few resources for either of them to get any help.

Stories like this are difficult to hear; you quickly realize how vital organizations like COAF are to these women. COAF provides free screenings for breast and cervical cancer and free treatment for STIs. With the help of the UNFPA, I inserted intrauterine devices (IUDs) for free to eligible women. This provides them with one of the most effective forms of birth control for up to 10 years.

On my final day working with COAF, one of the women was so thankful that as soon as the IUD procedure was complete, she jumped up and gave me a big kiss. She had had six surgical abortions, and she could not remember how many times she had taken Cytotec to end her other pregnancies.

It amazed me how much the women opened up to me. They are yearning for accurate information and resources, and they are deeply grateful not only for the health care that is provided but for the conversations about their bodies and their health.

Some women may not change their minds about birth control right away, but I know they at least have the information they need to consider it, and sometimes that is enough to start changing attitudes.

Despite all the economic and cultural barriers, I believe things are changing for women in Armenia -– slowly, of course, but moving in the right direction. There is no reason why Armenian women should have to keep relying on abortions for family planning, or why they should be misinformed about their reproductive health.

My hope is that educating women about their health and family planning options will empower them to take control of future. At the very least, they know where and when to seek care if they need it.

Related: Learn more about OBOS’s partner in Armenia, “For Family and Health” Pan Armenian Association (PAFHA), and efforts to adapt and distribute women’s health information based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The preface to the Armenian edition is available in English.

Ed. note about mifepristone and misoprostol:
Mifepristone and misoprostol are now frequently used together to produce what is called “medication abortion” for women who are less than eight weeks pregnant. The drugs are not identical and perform different actions. Mifepristone, often known by its manufacturing name RU-486, is almost always used for abortion or to end missed miscarriages. Misoprostol has wider applications and may be used in place of prostaglandins to create cervix softening prior to birth. It can also help prevent stomach ulcers that are caused when people take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).

Under the supervision of a health care provider, women choosing a medication abortion typically use an oral dose of mifepristone first, followed by either an oral or vaginal suppository dose of misoprostol several hours later. In slightly more than 90 percent of women, this induces abortion within two days, provided it is used in early pregnancy. Misoprostol becomes increasingly less effective in more advanced pregnancies, and other, more effective drugs may be chosen for pregnancies that are more than eight weeks along.

The different actions of mifepristone and misoprostol explain their effectiveness in inducing abortion. Mifepristone works to separate the placenta from the uterine lining, and it causes uterine contractions. Additionally, the drug has some effect on the cervix and may cause it to soften.

January 28, 2013

When it Comes to Abortion Rights, the Issue is Access

Although we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Roe last week, access to abortion is not only difficult for many women, but legislators are working to make it even more difficult.

On Saturday, Melissa Harris-Perry opened a discussion on her show with these remarks:

Before 1973′s Roe v. Wade, complications from abortion was the leading cause of death among women of childbearing age. This was especially true for women of color. As access to abortion once again narrows, it puts women’s lives in danger. So while much of the debate about reproductive rights is focused on the legal interpretation and the Constitution and the bodily rights of women, we can’t forget the basic issue of access. [...] Access is the frontier on which we need to be fighting. 

It was a great conversation (watch above if you missed it!), and we were thrilled to see Steph Herold, a New York Abortion Access Fund board member and a contributor to the new edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (which we’re aiming to send to all members of Congress; learn more here), and Feministing editor Chloe Angyal taking part in the round table, along with The Nation editor/publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and Demos senior fellow Bob Herbert.

Herold talked about the implications of the Hyde Amendment, which since 1976 has banned Medicaid coverage of abortion, and how that limits access for low-income women.

“We really believe that however people feel about abortion, politicians shouldn’t be be able to deny women health care coverage just because they’re poor,” said Herold.

As legislatures reconvene for the new year, we’re keeping an eye on proposed bills that further restrict access to abortion.

In the states:
Proposed bills in Arkansas would prohibit all abortions after 20 weeks, ban the practice of remotely prescribing medication for abortions (otherwise known as telemedicine), and ban abortion coverage in health insurance exchanges.

A bill has been introduced in Florida to ban all abortions except in medical emergencies and to sentence abortion providers (or those who assist or own/run clinics) with up to life to prison. The bill has failed in previous years.

The previously defeated personhood bill is back in Oklahoma.

You may have seen news of a New Mexico bill from Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown, which would make it a felony for a woman to have an abortion if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. The bill frames such abortions as “evidence tampering.”

Brown claims the bill is being misunderstood; at the very least, it’s poorly written, as it very clearly prohibits not only “compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion” but also “procuring or facilitating an abortion.” The bill is reportedly being re-written; advocates should keep an eye out for clarification of the language.

Here’s another summary on more abortion restrictions being proposed around the country.

At the federal level:
Multiple bills have been proposed by Tennessee lawmakers to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X family planning funding (here’s my personal take as a Tennessean).

A bill has been introduced to define “life” as starting at fertilization.

Other bills would require hospital admitting privileges nationwide for abortion providers (a medically unnecessary move intended to restrict access), and would criminalize people who take a minor across state lines to access abortion, including a sister or aunt as well as other relatives and friends.

January 22, 2013

Roe Round-Up: Analysis on the 40th Anniversary of Legalized Abortion

Lizz Winstead, Daily Show co-creator and producer, has a message for what’s at stake on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

On the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, we celebrate four decades of legal abortion — which has undoubtedly changed and saved many women’s live. Yet we recognize there is still much work to be done.

To help change policy and to ensure that all legislators understand the basics about women’s bodies and reproduction, OBOS has re-opened the campaign to send copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to every member of Congress.

Let your friends and colleagues know there’s still time to join the campaign — we’ll be delivering the books to D.C. starting in late February.

OBOS is also taking part in Trust Women Week to urge policy makers to support reproductive justice and access to contraception and abortion. You can add your name to a petition that will be sent to legislators. If you’re in San Francisco, there’s an event this Saturday starting at 10 a.m. at Justin Herman Plaza.

Many organizations and individuals are covering the anniversary today from a variety of personal and political perspectives. Below are some interesting commentaries and reminders of what has been accomplished and how we can work to ensure access for all women. Please leave your favorite links in the comments.

At reddit, two abortion clinic workers have answered a wide variety of questions from readers.

Kimberly Inez McGuire of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health spoke at a Center for American Progress panel on Roe 2.0: Strategies for the Next Generation of Reproductive Rights Activism. Also, check out the group’s new Yo Te Apoyo (I Support You) campaign and Roe v. Wade 40 years later: Latinas weigh in on abortion.

NARAL Pro-Choice America is holding their annual Blog for Choice day; expect links to many posts on the topic of personal stories and abortion.

Planned Parenthood has a 40th anniversary video.

The author at Deana’s blog, a professor of sociology, talks about the new study documenting attacks on pregnant women’s autonomy (see our recent post on this issue).

The National Women’s Law Center encourages us all to write our legislators to support abortion access and stand against restrictions.

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health have made available online the documentary “Voices of Choice: Physicians Who Provided Abortions Before Roe v. Wade.” The film includes interviews with Bylle Avery, founder of the National Black Women’s Health Project, and Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider who was murdered.

The 1 in 3 campaign, a project of Advocates for Youth, provides stories from individuals who’ve had an abortion. The organization has also released a book of stories and resources for college campuses.

Shanelle Matthews has a powerful story and insightful commentary at The Crunk Feminist Collective: The story that’s taken ten years to tell: On abortion, race and the power of story. Here’s an excerpt:

The narrative that abortion gives women and transpeople an opportunity to live the rest of our lives, to become a doctor or a lawyer or whatever isn’t true for everyone. For some of us, abortion just provides one more day. One more day to live our lives exactly the way we want to. For some of us the decision isn’t political, it’s essential. It is essential to taking care of the children we already have, to circumventing difficult medical experiences or to just not be pregnant. There is nothing heroic about having an abortion. It is an essential part of reproductive health care.

Bridgette Dunlap at RH Reality Check describes an unusual argument for the legality of abortion, resting not in the right to privacy but in the 13th Amendment forbidding slavery and involuntary servitude. This argument suggests the government may not outlaw abortion, because “to do so would be to require physical service from a woman for the benefit of a fetus.”

Flyover Feminism is hosting a week-long series on reproductive rights.

In Mississippi, the state’s only abortion clinic may close. Coverage includes “Inside Mississippi’s Last Abortion Clinic,” from Mother Jones, and “In Jackson, Mississippi, Southern Hospitality and Food for Thought on Access to Abortion“ at RH Reality Check.

Monica Raye Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong issued a statement celebrating Roe but highlighting the bigger picture: “We need to discuss how issues such as economics, immigration reform, interpersonal violence, rape and lack of comprehensive sexual education are all a part of the equation needed for reproductive justice to be achieved.”

Jill Filipovic in “Roe v Wade at 40: what American women owe to abortion rights” writes about the ongoing struggle to make reproductive rights accessible to all women:

The primary victims of the pro-life strategy are poor women. The pro-life movement has stepped up its legislative game in the past two years, introducing and passing record-breaking numbers of anti-choice laws in 2011 and keeping the victories coming in 2012. They’ve made it not only hard to get an abortion, but to get birth control, sex ed and health care generally.

The result is that Roe’s promise of abortion rights isn’t available to large swaths of the American population.

The National Women’s Law Center explains that the health care reform allows states to pass laws banning private insurance coverage of abortion in state exchange plans, meaning that “in twenty states, a woman will not be allowed to purchase an exchange-based health plan that covers abortion services, and also may not be able to purchase a plan that provides insurance coverage for abortion at all.”

As we were saying, there’s plenty of work left to do.

January 16, 2013

When Pregnancy is a Crime: Arrests, Forced Interventions in the Name of Public Health

Although this January marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, we know that there is still much work to be done to ensure reproductive justice for all women.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that 2012 saw the second highest number of abortion restrictions enacted in a single year; the Center for Reproductive Justice addresses each state in this report.

Among the provisions ultimately defeated were “fetal personhood” bills in Mississippi and Oklahoma. But the notion that fetuses should be protected from the women carrying them has resulted in the restriction and punishment of women across America.

Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and Jeanne Flavin, a professor of sociology at Fordham University and chair of NAPW’s board, have put together an extremely interesting and important study: “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973–2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health.”

Paltrow and Flavin (who is also the author of the 2008 book “Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America“) tried to identify and examine U.S. cases from 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade, through 2005, in which a medical or government authority tried or succeeded in stripping a woman’s autonomy because of pregnancy. The study appears in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

These cases could have involved threat of or actual arrest, incarceration, or increased prison/jail time; detention in a hospital, treatment program, or mental institution; or forced medical intervention. Descriptive detail of several cases is provided, along with summary statistics on the findings.

Looking at legal, medical and other sources, Paltrow and Flavin analyzed 413 cases, which they speculate are “a substantial undercount,” because cases were difficult to identify and some sources referred to additional cases.

The data reveals substantial racial, income and geographic disparities. While almost every state had multiple cases, the regions with the most were the south (56 percent) and midwest (22 percent). These cases disproportionately targeted black women (52 percent of cases overall, and 72 percent of cases in the south), and 71 percent involved low-income women (enough so that they qualified for indigent defense).

Most women who faced criminal charges were charged with felonies; a greater percentage of black women (85 percent) were charged with felonies than white women (71 percent).

The authors explore how these disparities are interlinked with disparities in drug laws, disproportionate application of criminal laws, and outdated stereotypes about cocaine use (such as the “crack baby” myth).

The vast majority of the cases — 84 percent — involved allegations of illegal drug use. In the remaining cases, “women were deprived of their liberty based on claims that they had not obtained prenatal care, had mental illness, or had gestational diabetes, or because they had suffered a pregnancy loss.”

Although concern for the health of the fetus/infant is typically offered as a reason for increased scrutiny or detainment of pregnant women, in 64 percent of the cases there was no reported health issue cited in the allegation.

Chillingly, most cases were reported by people in so-called “helping professions”: health care providers (41 percent), social workers (12 percent), and hospital, child protective services, or police personnel (17 percent). Health care providers reported black women at a higher rate (48 percent) than white women (27 percent).

As the authors point out:

Due in part, no doubt, to the strong public health opposition to such measures, no state legislature has ever passed a law making it a crime for a woman to go to term in spite of a drug problem, nor has any state passed a law that would make women liable for the outcome of their pregnancies. Similarly, no state legislature has amended its criminal laws to make its child abuse laws applicable to pregnant women in relationship to the eggs, embryos, or fetuses that women carry, nurture, and sustain. No state has rewritten its drug delivery or distribution laws to apply to the transfer of drugs through the umbilical cord. To date no state has adopted a personhood measure, and no law exists at the state or federal level that generally exempts pregnant women from the full protection afforded by federal and state constitutions.

In other words, nothing about existing law should make women subject to such persecution. They also note that public health groups have observed that targeting pregnant women may lead to women avoiding medical care or having unwanted abortions to avoid increased and punitive scrutiny.

Paltrow and Flavin also highlight these cases in the context of proposed personhood laws, which would give fetuses individual rights and potentially could lead to increased prosecutions of women. They authors note that they have identified “more than two hundred cases initiated against pregnant women since 2005 that also overwhelmingly rest on the claim of separate rights for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses.”

Opponents to personhood laws have cautioned that such measures could lead to forced medical interventions on pregnant women along with possible punishment for miscarriages and stillbirths. While personhood proponents often dismiss these warnings as scare tactics, the research shows there is good reason to be concerned.

Paltrow and Flavin conclude with a call for change:

In light of these continued efforts and our findings, we challenge health care providers, law enforcement and child welfare officials, social workers, judges, and policy makers to examine the role they play in the arrests and detentions of and forced interventions on pregnant women. We call on these same people to develop and support only those policies that are grounded in empirical evidence, that in practice will actually advance the health, rights, and dignity of pregnant women and their children, and that will not perpetuate or exacerbate America’s long and continuing history of institutionalized racism.

Finally, our study provides compelling reasons for people who value pregnant women, whether they support or oppose abortion, to work together against personhood and related measures so women can be assured that on becoming pregnant they will retain their civil and human rights.

The whole article is well worth a read if you can get a copy. The abstract is freely available online.

January 3, 2013

Roe v. Wade 40th Anniversary Events

This January 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.

Many local and national pro-choice and reproductive justice organizations will be holding events to mark this anniversary. Here are a couple we know about, including one we’re excited to co-sponsor with many great organizations in our home state. Know of others or want to share your own? Please tell us in the comments!

Roe v Wade 40th anniversary Massachusetts eventIn Massachussetts, we’re co-sponsoring the Roe v. Wade 40th Anniversary Legislative Breakfast and Lobby Day at the State House on January 14. You can sign up to attend the breakfast, with keynote speaker Paula Johnson, MD, MPH, Executive Director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology, and/or the lobby events, a chance for you to meet with elected officials after a brief advocacy training. Please sign up online to participate.

In Manhattan on Jan 14, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health is hosting “Roe Revealed: Doctors Tell Their Stories on the 40th Anniversary of Legalized Abortion,” with Dr. Willie Parker, Dr. Linda Prine, and a special guest. The event with these abortion providers is $20; additional tickets are required for the reception.

NARAL Pro-Choice America is holding its annual Blog for Choice Day on Jan 22. This year, they’re asking participants to share their own stories of why they’re pro-choice. As usual, you can sign up online to join in.

While there’s plenty of reason to celebrate 40 years of Roe, legislative attacks on reproductive and sexual health and choice continue around the country. In 2011 alone, U.S. lawmakers enacted 92 abortion-restricting provisions in bills designed to curtail women’s rights to health services. According to the Guttmacher Institute, that number shattered the previous single-year record of 34 such provisions enacted in 2005. Such laws make it more difficult, and painful, for women to exercise their legal right to terminate a pregnancy.

What will you do this year to ensure reproductive justice for all? For starters, check out Our Bodies, Our Votes, our resource for fighting back against attacks on women’s health and rights. While you’re there, order a sticker and submit your picture to our awesome Click It, Stick It, Share It tumblr.

History of Abortion in the U.S. – an “Our Bodies, Ourselves” excerpt
The 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade: A Teachable Moment, by Linda K. Kerber

December 11, 2012

Lies Straight From the Pit of Hell and Other Comments on Biology and Women’s Health

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory … all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Comments like these are what spurred us to create Educate Congress, a campaign to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves“ to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Because these comments really were spoken by members of Congress.

And that’s not the only problem. Misinformation is too often used as the basis for crafting bad policy, which is why we’re working to show how Congress can advance evidence-based reproductive health policy, based on science and fact. Reproductive health policy pertains to issues such as birth control, abortion, breast and ovarian cancers, the effects of environmental toxins on women’s health and fetal development, and more.

We’re into our final countdown, with just eight days left to reach our goal of raising $25,000 to deliver books to every member of Congress and key members of the administration and government agencies whose work involves health care policy.

You can select a specific representative or senator to receive the book or donate to the general fund. There are great perks to show our thanks, including stickers, tote bags, signed copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” by OBOS founders and Gloria Steinem, and a signed Legitimate Road Trip poster commemorating the drive from Chicago to St. Louis with The Ladydrawers to rush sex-ed materials to Rep. Todd Akin.

Please help us reach our goal — because, really, doesn’t everyone deserve access to comprehensive sex-ed?

December 10, 2012

PBS American Voices: Our Bodies, Ourselves and the History of the Women’s Health Movement

Watch American Voices: Our Bodies Ourselves on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

The most recent episode of the PBS news show “Need to Know” featured an excellent yet disturbing segment about state legislatures slashing funding to women’s health clinics.

Mona Iskander looks at the effects this is having on women — particularly low-income women — and their ability to obtain birth control, STI screenings, and other reproductive health care services. Our own Judy Norsigian, OBOS’s founder and executive director, weighs in at the end about women’s health activism.

As part of the show’s online series “American Voices,”  Judy covers the beginnings of the women’s health movement in the United States and the launch of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” She discusses the long history of denying women access to services as well as information about their bodies, and notes the effects of so many years of misinformation:

Over the years, we saw repeated attacks on good sex education. So much so that we then ended up with federally funded abstinence-only sex education in many of our schools. And the damage done there is still showing, well into the 21st century. I’ve met professors at medical schools who have said incoming medical students have said that using condoms promotes HIV/AIDS. And that comes straight from their abstinence only sex education in high school.

Watch the video above (just 3.5 minutes) for a look at how hard women have worked to ensure access to accurate, evidence-based information, and why it’s more important than ever  that politicians use this information when setting health care policy.

Want to help educate Congress? Send a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to your favorite representative or senator. It makes a great holiday gift!

December 7, 2012

Judy Norsigian on PBS “Need to Know”: Women’s Health in Texas

As attacks on women’s access to reproductive health care continue, some states are slashing their budgets for family planning clinics.  The PBS news show “Need To Know“ examines the effects of these cuts on women in Texas.

The episode features Our Bodies Ourselves Executive Director Judy Norsigian, who offers an historical perspective of the fight for women’s reproductive freedom.

The episode airs today and tomorrow on various PBS stations. Click here to find your local station and air times. Here’s the full summary:

Need to Know examines how the Texas legislature has slashed funding to family planning programs because conservative lawmakers believe these programs may encourage women to get abortions.

Anchor Scott Simon interviews Pam Belluck, a health and science writer for The New York Times, who looks at what’s happening to these programs in other states.

And from “American Voices,” Judy Norsigian, one of the authors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” provides an historical account of women’s health policy debates over the past 40 years.

December 6, 2012

Pros and Cons of Making the Birth Control Pill Available Without a Prescription

condom and the pill

Though it won’t be as accessible as condoms, health experts are proposing to make the birth control pill available without a prescription. Photo / Jenny Lee Silver

This month, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement calling for oral contraceptives to be sold over-the-counter, no longer requiring a doctor’s prescription.

ACOG considered a host of issues, including the safety of birth control pills; whether pharmacists could screen for who shouldn’t get them, or if women could self-screen; adherence to taking the pill; whether women would skip other preventive care if they didn’t visit a health care provider for a prescription; and cost.

Notably, ACOG addresses frequent objections to OTC oral contraceptives by concluding that “several studies have shown that women can self-screen for contraindications,” and “cervical cancer screening or sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening is not required for initiating OC use and should not be used as barriers to access.”

As Kevin Drum points out at Mother Jones, most countries outside of North America and Europe do not require a prescription for these drugs.

ACOG notes, though, that making the pill non-prescription might increase the cost for women who have health insurance — especially since under health care reform, contraception can be purchased without a co-pay. Over-the-counter costs might end up being anything from the $4 deals many pharmacies offer to more than $100. Dr. Kent Sepkowitz also explores this concern at The Daily Beast:

Yes, your life is easier because you will be able to get the pill right this second, without calling my office. No, you don’t need to fill out forms and show insurance cards and wrangle over copay. But guess who is paying for the whole shabang? You. Yes, you.

Another concern is that if the pill were dispensed by pharmacists, we might see the more of same kinds of refusals as have happened with emergency contraception.

However, many patients may experience increased access with an OTC model. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health issued this response:

The recommendation that birth control be available over-the-counter supports what we know about Latinas and contraception: over-the-counter access will greatly reduce the systemic barriers, like poverty, immigration status and language, that currently prevent Latinas from regularly accessing birth control and results in higher rates of unintended pregnancy.

Pre-Prescribing Emergency Contraception to Teens
Another professional medical organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, issued a statement recognizing high teen birth rates in the United States and barriers to access to emergency contraception for adolescents 17  and younger. The AAP strongly admonishes pediatricians who refuse to discuss or provide contraception to teens based on their own beliefs, stating:

Pediatricians have a duty to inform their patients about relevant, legally available treatment options to which they object and have a moral obligation to refer patients to other physicians who will provide and educate about those services. Failure to inform/educate about availability and access to emergency-contraception services violates this duty to their adolescent and young adult patients.

The AAP recommends that physicians provide prescriptions to emergency contraception like Plan B in advance, so teens have it ready if and when the need arises. They also urge physicians to provide accurate information to teens on this topic, and, “At the policy level, pediatricians should advocate for increased nonprescription access to emergency contraception for teenagers regardless of age and for insurance coverage of emergency contraception to reduce cost barriers.”

Nice job, AAP!

HHS Urged to Remove Restrictions on Emergency Contraception
Finally, a petition is circulating urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to remove restrictions on emergency contraception and make it available to women of all ages without a prescription. To learn more, see RH Reality Check’s audio news conference and related links and commentary from Kristin Moore. Our previous posts provide background on why EC is not *already* available OTC to all women:

November 28, 2012

CDC Releases New Data on U.S. Abortions

Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases information on the number of abortions in the United States. Newly published data from 2009 shows that rates of abortion overall have decreased 5 percent since 2008 to the lowest levels since 2000. In general, rates of abortion were highest right after legalization, fell steadily in the 1980s and 1990s, and started to level off in the past decade.

It is not clear why rates have fallen. Possible contributors range from the expanded use of contraceptives and better sex education to the declining number of abortion providers and increases in restrictive abortion laws. Unintended pregnancy rates have not changed in decades – about half of all U.S. pregnancies are unintended — so that is not responsible for any decline.

As we know, many myths persist about who gets abortions and why. The following details shed some light on the topic:

  • Women in their 20s have the highest rates of abortion (ages 20–24: 27.4 abortions per 1,000 women / ages 25–29: 20.4 abortions per 1,000 women), and account for 57.1 percent of all abortions.

This doesn’t seem terribly surprising given that women in their 20s are more likely to be fertile. In addition, they are more frequently uninsured. The insurance factor likely decreases their use of the most effective birth control methods –IUDs and implants –as those methods require a visit to a health care provider.

  • The majority of women (55.3 percent) having abortions have not had a previous abortion. About 25 percent have had one previous abortion, and about 11 percent have had two previous abortions. Only about 8 percent have had three or more abortions, suggesting that the overwhelming majority of women having abortions do not fit the “using it as birth control” myth.
  • Six out of every 10 women having abortions have already had one or more children. Women very frequently say that they chose abortion in order to best be able to care for their existing families.
  • Abortions are usually performed early in pregnancy, with 64 percent done at less than eight weeks gestation, and about 92 percent done by or before 13 weeks.

There has been a clear shift to earlier abortions, with an almost 50 percent increase in abortions done at less than six weeks’ gestation. The CDC report is not able to address the reasons why; the increase may be caused by the greater availability of medication abortion (medication abortions are performed only up to 9 weeks) or an increased number of abortion laws that make later abortions more difficult to obtain.

Other points of interest:

  • Use of medication abortion continues to increase; 16.5 percent of abortions in 2009 were done medically instead of surgically, a 10 percent increase from 2008.
  • Abortion ratios (the number of abortions for every 1,000 women) decreased among non-Hispanic white women but not among women in any other racial/ethnic group.

Poor women, young women, and women of color are less likely to have access to reproductive health care services, more likely to have an unintended pregnancy, and more likely to have an abortion.

The CDC concludes its report with public health recommendations, including support for no-cost birth control. The Affordable Care Act comes close by eliminating co-pays for insured women (though employers who oppose reproductive rights are still fighting this provision), making birth control available without a co-pay for an estimated 47 million women. Here’s what the CDC has to say:

Moreover, although use of the most effective forms of reversible contraception (i.e., intrauterine devices and hormonal implants, which are as effective as sterilization at preventing unintended pregnancy ) has increased, use of these methods in the United States remains among the lowest of any developed country, and no additional progress has been made toward reducing unintended pregnancy. Research has shown that providing no-cost contraception increases use of the most effective methods and can reduce abortion rates. Removing cost as one barrier to the use of the most effective contraceptive methods might therefore be an important way to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and consequently the number of abortions that are performed in the United States.

See our analysis of a recent study on unintended pregnancies in St. Louis for further discussion of how improved access to free birth control reduces abortions. The study is important for its role in dismantling persistent myths about contraception and abortion.

Plus: Though some members of Congress with less-than-accurate ideas about women’s bodies lost re-election, that doesn’t mean Congress is apt to back smarter policy. Let’s remind all members about the importance of access to contraception and reproductive health services. Join the Educate Congress campaign to send “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to every elected senator and representative. You’ll receive an “I Educated Congress” button (and other perks) showing you did your part!

November 16, 2012

Savita Halappanavar’s Death from Being Denied an Abortion Leads to Shame and Searching

The story of Savita Halappanavar, who died last month as a result of Ireland’s abortion ban, has sparked much debate over Ireland’s abortion laws and, in a broader sense, the issue of access to reproductive health care.

Savita went to a hospital in Ireland while experiencing severe back pain. The medical staff diagnosed her with miscarriage of a fetus with no chance of survival, but refused to perform an abortion because they detected a fetal heartbeat.

Several days passed before the heartbeat ceased and removal was allowed. But by this point, Savita had developed an infection that led to her death.

This is a tragic example, but one that unfortunately is quite predictable when women are unable to obtain legal abortion care. Abortion has been banned in the Republic of Ireland since 1983 by constitutional amendment, but traces back to an 1861 law. According to the Irish Family Planning Association, more than 4,000 women living in Ireland traveled to England and Wales for abortions in 2011, because the service is not legally available in Ireland.

Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that despite apparent declines in this number, more women may simply be disguising their home country, as “The number of women contacting a charity that helps people in Ireland seek abortions in Britain is set to double for the third year in a row.” (For more on the history of abortion law in Ireland, see this timeline, and “Ireland’s abortion ban: a history of obstruction and denial.”)

Here are some of the articles and analysis stemming from Savita’s death:

  • Justice for Savita — Jessica Valenti gets to the bottom line for The Nation: “It’s not just our lives and health that are in danger, but our human dignity.”
  • Hospital Death in Ireland Renews Fight Over Abortion – Douglas Dalby at The New York Times writes of a state of Irish politics that will not be entirely unfamiliar to U.S. readers: “Given the divisiveness of the abortion issue in Ireland, which has prompted two bitterly fought referendums, successive governments have avoided passing any legislation.”
  • Death in Ireland is a Wake Up Call to Fight Bans on Later Abortion Here at Home – Susan Yanow at RH Reality Check contemplates the U.S. implications and concludes: “We have a sobering lesson to learn from Ireland — when doctor’s medical judgement is compromised by restrictive abortion laws, it is women’s health and women’s lives that suffer.”

Several writers have referred to the “X case” in covering this story. This was a controversial 1992 Irish Supreme Court case in which a 14-year-old girl expressed suicidal thoughts after being raped by a neighbor and becoming pregnant as a result. The girl planned to have an abortion elsewhere, but was prevented from doing so. The court eventually ruled that women have the right to seek abortions in life-threatening situations, including possible suicide.

Despite this 20-year-old ruling, Irish legislators have not passed a law to codify this right, leaving women in dangerously uncertain territory.

A Choice Ireland spokesperson explained:

Today, some twenty years after the X case we find ourselves asking the same question again — if a woman is pregnant, her life in jeopardy, can she even establish whether or not she has a right to a termination here in Ireland? There is still a disturbing lack of clarity around this issue, decades after the tragic events surrounding the X case in 1992.

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore has said that the government would act “to bring legal clarity to this issue as quickly as possible.”

See also these additional commentaries on the failure to pass relevant laws after the X case to make abortions clearly legal in life-threatening situations.

Emer O’Toole writes at The Guardian about the struggles of pro-choice activists in Ireland, pointing to the culpability of doctors, legislators, journalists, and others in perpetuating the lack of justice in abortion laws. She issues an apology to Savita’s family that is also a call to action to supporters of abortion rights:

To her family, I want to say: I am ashamed, I am culpable, and I am sorry. For every letter to my local politician I didn’t write, for every protest I didn’t join, for keeping quiet about abortion rights in the company of conservative relations and friends, for becoming complacent, for thinking that Ireland was changing, for not working hard enough to secure that change, for failing to create a society in which your wife, your daughter, your sister was able to access the care that she needed: I am sorry. You must think that we are barbarians.

Related: Study Examines How Inability To Obtain Abortion Care Affects Women’s Lives

November 7, 2012

Our Bodies, Our Votes: Election 2012 Highlights

Last night, the War on Women suffered a setback — due largely to women voters who used the ballot to re-elect President Barack Obama and to push back against absurd, insulting and just plain offensive comments about rape and women’s bodies.

As Veronica Arreola posted on Facebook:

Two of the biggest losers last night were the gentlemen who claimed that women have magic wombs that stop pregnancy from occurring during legitimate rape and if it does happen, it was a gift from God. The magic was in our votes, ladies. We’ve had it all along.

Erin Gloria Ryan’s post at Jezebel is succinctly titled “Team Rape Lost Big Last Night.” Read it for a complete look at races around the country.

Some highlights …

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin failed to unseat incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, causing Twitter to explode with a new round of Akin-related humor, like “Claire McCaskill legitimately wins and shuts that whole Akin thing down!”

John Koster was defeated by Suzan DelBene in Washington state — Koster famously referred to “the rape thing” and confused one woman’s choice with controlling all women’s choices: “I know a woman who was raped and kept the child, gave it up for adoption and doesn’t regret it.”

And in Illinois, Rep. Joe Walsh, who doesn’t believe abortion is ever necessary to save the life or health of a mother, lost to challenger Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs in combat.

For more analysis, Bryce Covert at The Nation examines the impact of politicians’ misogyny on the election outcomes, and concludes: “Score one for women’s rights, zero for attempts to control their bodies.”


Our Bodies, Our Votes …

“Our Bodies, Ourselves” turned up in a number of tweets last night. Anne Elizabeth Moore, who led The Ladydrawers on the road trip to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to the offices of Akin and McCaskill, posted this upon news of Akin’s defeat:

hey @RepToddAkin, now maybe you’ll finally have time to get crackin at all those books @oboshealth and @TheLadydrawers dropped off!

We heartily second that recommendation.

Following the defeat of Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock — who recently said, “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen” — Jason Lefkowitz tweeted: ”And in Indiana, Mourdock has officially been buried under a massive pile of hardback copies of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves.’”

Jason Cherkis also took note of the upsets, tweeting: ”GOP furiously buying ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ on Amazon.”

No need; with the public’s help, we’ll deliver the book to each and every member of Congress (41 days left to make this happen!).


Big gains for women and marriage equality …

binders full of women headed for the u.s. senateWe now have a record number of women in Senate, with 20 women Senators elected.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay senator, and the first woman senator from Wisconsin. Rep. Mazie Hirono became the first woman senator from Hawaii as well as the first Japan-born immigrant to be elected to the Senate and the first Buddhist.

Another big success last night was the passage of ballot measures in Maine and Maryland approving same-sex marriage, the first time it has been made legal through a popular vote. An amendment to ban same-sex marriage was defeated in Minnesota.

We’re still waiting to hear for sure about Washington state, but early returns are promising. Same-sex marriage is now legal in eight states as well as in Washington, D.C.

More good news: Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins is staying on the bench – he had been targeted for removal because of his role in the legalization of gay marriage in that state.


Mixed results on abortion-related measures …

Abortion-related measures were considered in two states. In Florida, voters defeated Amendment 6, which would have prevented state employees from using their healthcare coverage for most abortions, and would have affected privacy rights in a way that could have led to further restrictions.

In Montana, voters approved a parental notification measure requiring girls under age 16 to notify a parent or seek judicial bypass prior to terminating a pregnancy.


Lessons learned and work to be done …

Akiba Solomon at Colorlines shares “Five Race and Gender Justice Lessons Learned from This Marathon Election Cycle,” including this important point: “The Republican-led war on abortion, Title X-funded reproductive health care and contraceptive access was—and still is—a war on poor women of color and their families.”

And if anyone needs a reminder of the work we still have before us, On the Issues magazine has appropriately titled its fall issue “The Day After.”

From the editor’s note: “On wide-ranging issues — the economy to the environment, reproductive freedom to voting freedom, sexuality to media representation — our writers, artists and thinkers in The Day After remind us to extend our vision beyond the ballot box to where we need to place our energies, build our muscles and put our feet on the ground every day of the year.”

In other words, it’s time to get busy — again.

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 31, 2012

What’s Scarier, Creepy Cats or an Uneducated Congress? Take the Quiz!

by Rachel Walden & Christine Cupaiuolo

This Halloween, ask yourself: Which is scarier — Furry creatures that scamper in the night? Or a Congress ignorant of how reproduction and women’s bodies work?

Unsure? Take a quick quiz to find out which frightens you more!

1. (A) Possessed Vampire Kitty

Possessed Vampire Kitty


(B) Legislators claiming that pregnancy from “legitimate rape” is really rare because women’s bodies can just “shut that whole thing down,” and suggesting that pregnancies resulting from rape are “something that God intended to happen.”

2. (A) Golden-Eyed Vampire Kitty

Golden-Eye Vampire Kitty


(B) A member of Congress believing that thanks to ”modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance” of abortion being necessary to protect the health or save the life of the mother.

3. (A) Fork-Tongued Vampire Kitty

Forked Tongue Vampire Kitty


(B) Forcing women to undergo unnecessary and medically unwarranted procedures,  such as a transvaginal ultrasound, in order to obtain an abortion [HR 3805]. (If you’re in Pennsylvania and you don’t want to view the images, just close your eyes!)

4. (A) Lord Cattula

Lord Cattula


(B) Holding a Congressional hearing on contraception with no women present?

From left, Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, C. Ben Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy Union University, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Director Straus Center of Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University and Craig Mitchell, Associate Professor of Ethics of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, testify on Capitol Hill. | AP Photo

If you consistently selected “B,” then you’re more scared of misinformed policy and inaccurate statements about how women’s bodies work!

What can you do to change the conversation and protect yourself from misinformation? Join the Educate Congress campaign!

We’re delivering copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to every senator and representative so they have access to accurate, evidence-based information about reproductive health — and you can be part of this important effort.

Because nothing is more scary than legislators drafting policy that harms women — not even Meow Mix …

Credit: Cat photos

1. Possessed Vampire Kitty / Opacity on Flickr
2. Golden-Eyed Vampire Kitty / Digidave on Flickr
3. Fork-Tongued Vampire Kitty / mohd fahmi on Flickr
4. Lord Cattula / sgatto on Flickr