Archive for the ‘Activism & Resources’ Category

September 28, 2012

My Body is Mine! – Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion

Sept 28 Global Day of Action: Accessible Legal Safe Abortion

Globally, 47,000 deaths occur each year as a result of unsafe abortion, accounting for 13 percent of all maternal mortality.

Today, activists are calling attention to the need for safe, legal abortion in all countries, urging scrutiny of governments that restrict or forbid abortion.

The Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion campaign site includes a public statement that reads in part:

[P]regnancy-related deaths and unsafe abortion remain a major public health problem in large parts of the world. Most countries that allow women to die in childbirth also allow them to die and suffer from unsafe abortions. Why? Because they do not value women’s health and lives, including when they are pregnant. This is what makes women’s right to safe abortion a public health and human rights issue.

The number of maternal deaths has declined substantially globally between 1990 and 2008, while the number of deaths from unsafe abortion has fallen to 47,000 per year in 2008. However, the proportion of all maternal deaths due to unsafe abortion has not been reduced but remained at 13% of all maternal deaths in that period. In 2008, of the 43.8 million induced abortions globally, 21.6 million were unsafe, 98% of them in developing countries. (Sedgh et al, Lancet 2012) And an estimated 5 million of those 21.6 million women each year had to be hospitalised for treatment of complications of unsafe abortion, (Singh et al, Lancet 2007) putting a heavy burden on scarce hospital resources (up to 50% of hospital maternity beds in some countries). [...]

Adolescent girls suffer the most from complications of unsafe abortion and have the highest unmet need for contraception. More than 40% (8.7 million) of the 21.2 million unsafe abortions in developing countries in 2008 were in young women aged 15–24 years. Of these, 3.2 million were adolescents aged 15–19 years, and 5.5 million were aged 20–24 years. (Shah, RHM May 2012)

The website also explains the clinical, legal and social health determinants that characterize what is meant by “unsafe abortion”:

  • Illegal or legally restricted
  • Dangerous method
  • Untrained/unskilled provider
  • Unsafe conditions
  • Self-induced without help or information
  • Incorrect usage (of pills)
  • Little or no access to treatment for complications
  • Stigma and fear and isolation
  • Violence, rejection (by family, school, work) and murder, including of doctors providing abortion care
  • Threat of prosecution
  • Prosecution and imprisonment

Actions taking place around the globe are listed here by country. A letter has been written by young feminists to the United Nations, urging the UN to commit to women’s reproductive rights as human rights in upcoming negotiations. You can sign on to the letter via this petition site.

You can also keep up with the campaign on Twitter at @mybodycampaign and via the hashtag #safeabortion.

September 26, 2012

Conversations We Shouldn’t Still Be Having: Pelvic Exams Under Anesthesia

In the October issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, a medical student writes of his discomfort with a practice many people may be surprised to learn still occurs — medical students practicing pelvic exams, without explicit consent, on women who are under anesthesia for surgery.

The student, Shawn Barnes, writes that the practice left him “ashamed.”

“For 3 weeks, four to five times a day, I was asked to, and did, perform pelvic examinations on anesthetized women, without specific consent, solely for the purpose of my education,” writes Barnes. “To my shame, I obeyed.”

He continues:

As a medical student, I am all too aware of the hierarchy that exists during training. My medical education experience has reinforced the notion that the medical student should not question the practices of those above him or her. I was very conflicted about performing an act that I felt was unethical, but owing to both the culture of medicine and my own lack of courage, I did not immediately speak out against what I was asked to do by residents and attendings.

His commentary, titled “Practicing Pelvic Examinations by Medical Students on Women Under Anesthesia: Why Not Ask First?,” is available only by subscription/purchase, or through a library, as is a related editorial in the same issue, “Pelvic Examinations Under Anesthesia: A Teachable Moment.”

Carey M.York-Best and Jeffrey L. Ecker, authors of the editorial, remark that no one knows how often these exams occur, and they point out that teaching hospitals, which are expected to train students, do ask patients for general consent for students to be involved in their care. However, they rightly note that blanket consent is inadequate when it comes to pelvic exams:

After all, consent forms at many teaching hospitals include a statement outlining the involvement of students in patient care. Yet we believe that, even if such phrases may meet the letter of recommended conduct, they often are overlooked and a few words on an already too-long form do not represent true informed consent.

Barnes also calls these forms inadequate, and he also doesn’t buy the argument that women should expect such things when they go to a teaching hospital:

We first must remember that patients tend to seek care at facilities that are geographically nearby, where their regular physician has privileges, or where their insurance is accepted. Consent forms at teaching hospitals tend to use language stating that medical students and residents may be involved in that case. That involvement is not specified.

Practicing pelvic exams on women under anesthesia purely for teaching purposes — not for the women’s medical benefit — is not a new practice. However, many may have assumed it had largely stopped, particularly after a 2003 study (which I discussed several years ago) drew a lot of attention to the issue, causing many medical schools to clarify their policies and/or seek women’s explicit consent. Several professional medical organizations have also denounced the practice.

The study was based on a 1995 survey of students at five U.S. medical schools. The researchers found that only about a third of the students thought it was “very important” to get consent prior to doing a pelvic exam. Students who had actually done an ob/gyn clerkship were even less likely to think consent was important. Almost 10 percent of those students actually responded that explicit consent was “very unimportant.” The overwhelming majority (90 percent) of the ob/gyn clerkship students had performed pelvic exams on women under anesthesia.

Back to 2012 — Barnes informs readers that as a result of a bill signed into law this past June, Hawaii (where he studies) will join California, Illinois, and Virginia in making “unconsented” pelvic examinations against the law. For those interested in learning more, his testimony is included among these documents supporting the Hawaii bill.

This may be an opportunity for advocacy in other states, where it may be possible to get similar laws passed.

September 18, 2012

Providing Abortion is Also an Act of Conscience

In a compelling article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Lisa Harris, MD, points out that matters of “conscience” surrounding abortion and healthcare providers usually focus on refusing to perform abortions. She makes the case that choosing to provide abortions is also an act of conscience, one that is unfairly ignored.

While providing a brief history of conscience laws, Harris observes:

Over the past 40 years, the idea that conscience-based care means not providing or referring for abortion or other contested services has become naturalized. In 2008, the Bush administration extended the protections offered by the Church Amendment to workers who chose not to participate, even indirectly, in care that violated their moral beliefs. The Obama administration rescinded that rule. Antiabortion groups embraced Bush’s rule and criticized Obama’s rescinding of it; prochoice groups responded in the opposite manner. The result is an ongoing false dichotomization of abortion and conscience, making it appear that all abortion opponents support legal protections of conscience and all supporters of abortion rights oppose such protections, with little nuance in either position.

Drawing on Mark Wicclair’s “Conscientious Objection in Health Care: An Ethical Analysis,” and Carole Joffe’s “Doctors of conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe v. Wade,” Harris continues:

Whether or not abortion provision is “conscientious” depends on what conscience is. Most ideas of conscience involve a special subset of an agent’s ethical or religious beliefs — one’s “core” moral beliefs. The conclusion that abortion provision is indeed “conscientious” by this standard is best supported by sociologist Carole Joffe, who showed in Doctors of Conscience that skilled “mainstream” doctors offered safe, compassionate abortion care before Roe. They did so with little to gain and much to lose, facing fines, imprisonment, and loss of medical license. They did so because the beliefs that mattered most to them compelled them to. They saw women die from self-induced abortions and abortions performed by unskilled providers. They understood safe abortion to be lifesaving. They believed their abortion provision honored “the dignity of humanity” and was the right — even righteous — thing to do. They performed abortions “for reasons of conscience.”

We know, of course, that abortion providers today face “stigma, marginalization within medicine, harassment, and threat of physical harm.” Likewise, “conscientious” providers may have strongly held beliefs in “women’s reproductive autonomy as the linchpin of full personhood and self-determination, or they believe that women themselves best understand the life contexts in which childbearing decisions are made, or they value the health of a woman more than the potential life of a fetus.” These perspectives, writes Harris, are often ignored, with “conscience” invoked only in an anti-abortion context.

Harris makes a really interesting argument that if laws are allowed to protect conscientious refusals of medical care — especially to restrict abortion access — they should also allow conscientious provision:

Persistent neglect of the compatibility between conscience and abortion provision not only misrepresents their relationship, but has consequences for law, clinical practice, and bioethics. First, U.S. federal and state laws continue to protect only conscience-based refusals to perform or refer for abortion, offering minimal legal protection for conscience-based abortion provision. For example, the recent Georgia and Arizona bans on abortion after 22 and 20 weeks’ gestation, respectively, include no allowances for providers conscience-bound to offer care after that limit.

As Harris succinctly puts it: “Whether or not abortion provision is ‘conscientious’ depends on what conscience is.”

Read the full article. Healthcare students and doctors interested in supporting or learning more about abortion and reproductive choice should check out Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, Medical Students for Choice, and Nursing Students for Choice.

August 24, 2012

#akinroadtrip Report – More Discussion of the GOP Abortion Problem

While we’ve been busily tweeting away with reports on the #akinroadtrip to deliver the most recent “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Rep. Todd Akin, the story has kept up steam in the media. Here’s some coverage of the overall issue and big picture problem of the GOP’s abortion platform that we liked:

And much-appreciated coverage of the road trip:

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.


August 14, 2012

Latina Week of Action Blog Carnival Round-Up

Last week, we marked the third annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, this year themed “¡Soy Poderosa!” (“I’m Powerful!”) and coordinated in part by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

As part of the event, the NLIRH held a blog carnival, encouraging writing on the theme of Latina civic power. There are many great posts from carnival participants listed here. A few highlights:

  • Bloggers at Raising Women’s Voices and Community Catalyst’s Health Policy Hub talk about the Affordable Care Act and its effects, including preventive coverage for women.
  • At NLIRH, though, Morgan Meneses-Sheets points out What the Affordable Care Act Hydes, particularly that the health reform legislation does nothing to make abortion more accessible or affordable. She discusses the Hyde Amendment and its disproportionate affects on poor women, who themselves are disproportionately women of color.
  • Also at NLIRH, Kimberly Inez McGuire and Morganne Rosenhaus write about environmental justice, effects on communities of color, and the need to be involved in demanding change in exposure to toxic chemicals at home and at work.
  • Ana Laura Rivera talks about working as a sex ed advocate, and the need to hold political leaders accountable for access to accurate sex education and health resources for low-income communities.

There are plenty of other great posts, including several profiles of powerful Latina advocates listed in the carnival – go check them out!

Related: Check out OBOS’s Organizing for Change for more resources on women’s health advocacy topics, and information on OBOS’s Latina Health Initiative.

August 6, 2012

3rd annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice

This week marks the third annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, this year themed “¡Soy Poderosa!” (“I’m Powerful!”). The event is coordinated by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, this year with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.

Check out the video below, and go to the campaign site to learn how to get involved.
YouTube Preview Image

In conjunction with the week, there will be a ¡Soy Poderosa! blog carnival. To participate, write about an issue the matters to the Latina community, especially with a focus on what civic power looks:

Join us during the week of August 6-10, 2012, and write about how you are poderosa/powerful. You can write a post on your own blog or tumblr and we’ll include it in our blog carnival round-up, or you can submit a guestpost for possible publication at the NLIRH blog.

How do you influence your community? Do you participate in local government? Do you vote? Do you organize to improve the conditions of your community? Do you encourage your elected officials to take actions that represent you and your issues? Do you talk with your friends and family about the issues you care about? Volunteer with local groups?

We all participate in our own way and that is why we are Poderosas.

There’s also ongoing discussion via NLIRH’s Twitter account and Facebook page.

July 27, 2012

Women on Waves Launches Global Directory of Sexual/Reproductive Health Services & Abortion Providers

Women on Waves ShipWomen on Waves works to increase access to safe abortions for women in countries with restrictive abortion policies. The organization offers hotlines for information, details on obtaining medical abortions (drug-induced rather than surgical) via the web, and a map with summary info on each nation’s abortion laws and misoprostol (a medication that induces abortion) brand names and availability.

The organization also sometimes runs ship campaigns, in which women who can’t get abortions in their home countries ride out to international waters for medication abortions.

The group has put together a directory of Sexual Health Services Worldwide, with information on who to contact and where to go for abortions and other reproductive health services in countries around the world. In most cases, the directory information is provided in the main language of the country, and it sometimes includes information on abortion funds for those who need assistance paying.

Nations with extremely restrictive abortion laws are also included. For example, if you check out the listing for Ireland, where abortion is illegal unless a woman’s life is endangered, the site provides information on nearby countries a woman could travel to, information on organizations and clinics in those countries, and which nations might be cheaper for travel costs.

Reminder: To get involved in our current campaign promoting voting and reproductive rights in the United States, check out Our Bodies, Our Votes!

July 25, 2012

Live in Massachusetts? Take 2 Minutes to Support Bill Regulating Certified Professional Midwives

Our Bodies Ourselves has partnered with The Big Push for Midwives in support of this important legislation. Please take a moment to learn how you can help improve the health of mothers and infants in Massachusetts. Thank you! – Judy Norsigian, OBOS Executive Director


If you care about mothers and babies, the Commonwealth needs your help TODAY to PASS HB 4253, An Act Relative to Certified Professional Midwives.

We have just a few days left to pass this important legislation that will regulate Certified Professional Midwives.

Currently, there is no state oversight, which means ANYONE — even an 18-year-old car mechanic — can hang out a shingle and practice as a midwife. Hairdressers must be licensed to practice in Massachusetts, but midwives do not.

Should a “cut and color” be regulated and have professional practice requirements while MA midwives currently have none?

How to Help

    You can find contact information for your representative here:
  • GIVE them an update on the bill, HB 4253 — An Act Relative to Certified Professional Midwives — and let them know the bill is now with the House Ways and Means committee.
  • ASK them to contact Chairman Dempsey’s office (617-722-2990) (representing Haverill and Chair, House Ways & Means Committee) to REQUEST that HB 4253 BE RELEASED TO THE HOUSE FLOOR FOR A VOTE ASAP.
  • ASK them to then support the bill when it reaches the House Floor.
  • URGE them to tell their colleagues to support the bill on the House Floor.
    The calls will take TWO minutes or less. Please pass this on to friends, family, neighbors and anyone else to also make calls. We need to flood the State House!

Want to do even more?
PLEASE reach out to Massachusetts HOUSE LEADERSHIP (see listing at the end of this message), letting them know:

  • This bill is important to you
  • That this bill is being supported by House leaders

Also, we will be at the State House on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons this week (7/25 and 7/26). Please join us! Drop a quick email to Ann Sweeney at ann AT, and we’ll let you know where to rendezvous with us.

Please help us in spreading the word and passing this legislation into law! Keep the calls coming! We need EVERYONE to call to get this done! Make a difference! Make it count!

Thank you for your support!
- Ann Sweeney (Mass Friends of Midwives)
ann AT
- Miriam Khalsaak (Mass Midwives Alliance)
akmidwife AT


To help out even more:
CALL more Massachusetts House Leadership

Other Important Representatives in House Leadership to call:
Rep. Haddad—very supportive—617-722-2600
Speaker DeLeo—he is aware of the bill—seems to understand need for it—617-722-2500
Rep. Reinstein—very supportive and a co sponsor—617-722-2180
Rep. Moran (Boston and Brookline)—supportive and a co-sponsor— 617-722-2006
Rep. Story (Amherst)—very supportive—617-722-2012
Rep. Donato—seems supportive—617-722-2040
Rep. Mariano—has always supported licensure bills—617-722-2300
Rep. Jones—aide seems supportive—617-722-2100
Rep. Rushing—617-722-2783
Rep. Bradley—617-722-2520

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.

June 21, 2012

Want to Help Make History? Join Us in Demanding Female Condoms!

by Anna Forbes

Sign for Female CondomsHave you ever been part of an attempt to set a new record in the “Guinness Book of World Records”? Want to help break an existing world record while also helping to increase access to HIV prevention tools?

If so, your message can be featured in what we hope will become the world’s longest chain of paper dolls.

Universal Access to Female Condoms Joint Programme (UAFC) is working with CHANGE, Our Bodies Ourselves, and dozens of other organizations around the world to collect 30,000 individually completed paper dolls to display in one massive chain at the International AIDS Conference, scheduled for July 22-27 in Washington, D.C.

To participate, just go to by July 27 and write a message about why you think female condoms are important. Your message and paper doll will be included in the chain. Together, we’ll break the world record.

This extraordinary visual statement will illustrate the broad-based, urgent demand for female condoms that exists all around the world. Right now, only 1 percent of all condoms used worldwide are female condoms (FC). Most people either don’t know about FCs or have never used them because they are poorly promoted, expensive and/or unavailable. Meanwhile, more than half of all people living with HIV worldwide are women.

Female condoms are just as effective as male condoms in preventing HIV and pregnancy—and they allow women to protect themselves when male condoms aren’t being used.

Participation is free, it’s fast, and you will contribute to a powerful visual statement urging policy-makers and funders to invest more in making the FC, an under-utilized, highly effective HIV prevention tool, accessible to all women and men who need it.

Learn more about this project by visiting Thanks for taking part!

Anna Forbes is an advocate, organizer, and writer who has worked in HIV/AIDS since 1985 and on women’s health and rights since 1977.  Now an independent consultant with an international client base, her work centers around women, HIV, gender, health, and rights.

May 17, 2012

Physicians Speak Out: A High Profile Call to Arms in the Abortion War

by Carole Joffe

 [T]here is now an unprecedented and sweeping legal assault on women’s reproductive rights. New legislation is being introduced, and sometimes passed, in state after state that would roll back access to abortion and contraception, mainly by intruding on the relationship between doctor and patient. [...] But where are the doctors? They have been strangely silent about this legal assault, even though it directly interferes with medical practice.

The above statement is important not just because of the insightful words being said, but because of who is writing these words, and where these words are published. The writers are Marcia Angell and Michael Greene, and the piece they wrote on current abortion restrictions appears in USA Today, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the United States.

Dr. Angel, a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, is the former editor-in-chief of the “New England Journal of Medicine”; Dr. Greene is professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School and chief of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Why do the credentials of the writers, and the place of publication, matter? The significance of these issues becomes clear if one takes into account the longstanding marginalization of abortion — and abortion providers — in the United States. As I learned in researching a book on the first generation of doctors who provided abortion after Roe vs. Wade, these pioneers acutely felt their isolation from mainstream medicine.

Most hospitals did not establish abortion services, most professional organizations did not set guidelines for abortion care, very little training of residents in abortion procedures was taking place, and many individual providers told me of sanctions they experienced because of their involvement with the abortion issue. I heard numerous stories of academic advancement denied, difficulty in getting research published, but perhaps most poignant of all, the lack of colleague-ship they felt with their fellow physicians.

As I speculated, the memories of the “back alley abortionists” were still so strong in the period immediately after Roe that even ethical and competent doctors, such as those I interviewed, were tainted with that legacy. In short, a majority of physicians then (as now) have supported legal abortion — but there was less support for the abortion provider.

To be sure, much has changed for the better since 1973 in U.S. medicine with respect to abortion. The number of training sites has considerably improved; such technological developments as medication abortion (formerly known as RU-486) and an improved device for Manual Vacuum Aspiration have brought many primary care doctors and, where legally permitted, nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants to offer early abortion care; perhaps most importantly, organizations such as Medical Students for Choice and PRCH (Physicians for Reproductive Choice in Health) have facilitated collegial contact between numerous clinicians who go on to become abortion providers, or who are already doing so, and clinicians in other fields who, while not performing abortions themselves, firmly support those who do.

However, while the stigma surrounding abortion within medicine may have lessened, in the larger society it has only worsened — as we see from the unprecedented number, and character, of the restrictions proposed in the last year and a half.

In fact, numerous states even mandate that abortion patients be told misleading or downright untrue facts, such as the links between abortion and breast cancer or infertility — while a number of states have passed, or are proposing, laws that shield doctors from lawsuits if they withhold accurate information, such as the results of prenatal diagnosis that might lead a pregnant woman to seek an abortion.

Back to the forceful statement by doctors Angell and Greene. They are not the only voices within medicine to object to these egregious measures. The Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Wisconsin Medical Society, for example, are on record as opposing restrictive laws in those states because they interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. Pippa Abston, a pediatrician in Alabama, has become an outspoken critic of Alabama’s mandated ultrasound law, speaking at rallies and making a video of her opposition, and others have voiced objection as well.

But given the cultural stigma that now surrounds abortion, the fact of two high profile physicians at one of the country’s leading medical institutions, speaking out in such a widely read newspaper, is a particularly welcome blow against the legislative persecution of abortion providers. To me, it is especially encouraging,  given the past marginalization of this field that I have described, that the two physician-writers have not themselves built careers around abortion.

Angell and Greene mince no words in denouncing the assault on medical ethics that such laws represent, and make clear their understanding that the stakes in these battles go well beyond abortion care. “Physicians…have ethical commitments to patients that they cannot and should not be required by state law to set aside. Prominent among them is the responsibility to place the welfare of their patients above all other considerations.”

But their statement does not only call for the proper treatment for patients. They end their piece with a call for the relevant medical professional organizations — too timid till now, in their view — to support their members who are caught in this war on those who serve women.

Carole Joffe is a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco. NOTE: The views and opinions of the participant expressed here on this site do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Regents of the University of California, UCSF, UCSF Medical Center. This article was originally published at  RH Reality Check and is reposted with permission.

May 16, 2012

Congrats to Our Friends at the National Women’s Health Network!

Earlier this month, the National Women’s Health Network received the Grassroots Activism Award from the National Breast Cancer Coalition for its years of work challenging the wisdom of widespread use of menopausal hormone replacement therapy, especially estrogen/progestin therapy known to raise women’s risk of breast cancer.

NWHN Director Cindy Pearson, in response to the award, reminds us of how widespread HRT was in the recent past, and how little was really known at that time about the potential harms of the therapy:

You remember what she was talking about: until just about 10 years ago, it was routine practice to prescribe hormone therapy to women during menopause. This was justified by claims that it would keep us young and healthy, despite the lack of evidence supporting those claims and despite evidence suggesting that hormone therapy might increase the risk of breast cancer. But the Network knew that what the medical establishment believed had not been proven by science. And we wouldn’t stop saying that – even when the response was rolled eyes and smug looks.

Kudos to the NWHN for their persistence, getting the message out to women who needed it, and this much-deserved recognition.

April 18, 2012

Invasive Strip Searches Halted at Michigan Women’s Prison

[Note: this post and the linked materials contain graphic discussion of sexual abuse, rape, and prison genital searches.]

A Michigan women’s prison that was practicing a particularly degrading type of visual body cavity search on prisoners has agreed to stop the searches.

Earlier this month, the ACLU sent a letter to the Michigan Department of Corrections demanding that they end the practice of performing spread-labia vaginal searches at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.  During such searches, women were required to sit on a chair or table and spread their own labia for inspection by prison guards. The women were sometimes forced to undergo such inspection in view of other prisoners, and if they objected, could “be forced to submit through physical force or punished with solitary confinement.”

Our Bodies Ourselves signed on to the ACLU’s letter objecting to these practices, along with several other organizations.

Despite the invasiveness of the inspections, no apparent attention was given to hygiene or to the women’s health. From the letter:

In addition, measures to assure sanitation during these invasive searches are often incomplete or ignored entirely, resulting in women being exposed to the menstrual blood or other bodily fluids of other prisoners when they sit on the chair, including those suffering from serious communicable conditions such as HIV and hepatitis. A disposable liner for use on the chair is rarely if ever provided, and women are seldom permitted to sanitize the chair or wash their hands after the search. At least one woman has suffered a vaginal infection which she believes was contracted during a spread-labia vaginal search.

These searches were not just performed on women newly entering the facility or on those suspected of hiding contraband – they occurred every time the women had visitors, even legal representation or religious workers, and after prison work shifts or receipt of medical care. No considerations were apparently made regarding the actual seriousness of the threat if there was suspected contraband, or for individual women’s physical or psychological needs. For example:

On one occasion, four kitchen workers were subjected to spread-labia vaginal searches in full view of one another because a guard believed that some chicken might have been stolen from the kitchen. No exceptions are made for women who are menstruating, pregnant, ill, or have been sexually abused, whether prior to or during their incarceration.

The ACLU received letters from more than 60 prisoners about these searches; some of their stories have been shared online. Here and elsewhere, women have described not wanting to receive any visitors (because of the search afterward); the discomfort of being forced to touch their own genitals in front of others or of having their PTSD triggered; and feeling that they are being raped when subjected to these exams.

The Michigan Department of Corrections said it had ended the practice in December, while the ACLU said it continued to get complaints about it more recently. Last week, the ACLU confirmed that the practice has now been stopped.

Such spread-labia searches are apparently *not* the norm in prisons nationwide. Even a spokesperson for the state prison stated (emphasis added):

“Corrections officers didn’t think it was necessary, prisoners felt it was an irritant, the prison psychiatric staff thought it was a stressor and, in nearly two years, it didn’t find any contraband.”

This type of search will now only be conducted when there is suspected smuggled contraband, although it is not clear how well that standard will be enforced.

An editorial at the Detroit Free Press called the practice “demeaning and unnecessary,” and notes that follow-up is needed to ensure compliance with the halt:

Warden Warren deserves credit for taking the initiative to investigate the policy and end it, at least officially. But given the department’s history of sexual abuse, Corrections must now take additional measures to ensure the new policy is followed, as well as review its polices on strip searches in general to determine if they are necessary and conducted in the least degrading manner possible.

Kudos to the women who wrote letters to the ACLU and to the ACLU for bringing this invasive, unnecessary, and traumatizing practice to light.

April 17, 2012

Support OBOS and Get Signed Copies of Our New Book and “Voices of the Women’s Health Movement”

cover image for Voices of the Women's Health MovementBarbara Seaman, co-founder of the National Women’s Health Network, noted feminist, women’s health activist, and author, died in 2008, but her work advocating for women’s health remains as an influence and inspiration.

Seaman’s influential works include her 1969 book, “The Doctors’ Case against the Pill,” which led to Congressional hearings on oral contraception and ultimately to the labeling of birth control pills, and her 2003 book, “The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth,” an important work on estrogen use and misuse.

A new book, “Voices of the Women’s Health Movement,” edited by Seaman with Laura Eldrigde, has just been published. The book, the second in a two-part series, includes classic essays and contemporary works on topics including birth control, pregnancy and birth, aging and menopause, abortion, LGBT health, sex, mental health, chronic illness, violence against women, and body image.  The role of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and Our Bodies, Ourselves in the women’s health movement is also addressed.

The book features more than 200 contributors, including Jennifer Baumgardner, Susan Brownmiller, Phyllis Chesler, Angela Davis, Barbara Ehrenreich, Germaine Greer, Shulamith Firestone, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Erica Jong, Molly Haskell, Shere Hite, Susie Orbach, Judith Rossner, Alix Kates Shulman, Gloria Steinem, Sojourner Truth, Rebecca Walker, and many others, including Seaman herself.

Library Journal called it “a valuable work for anyone interested in the women’s health movement.” OBOS co-founder Judy Norsigian adds, “Barbara was one of the founding mother’s of the current women’s health movement and her prolific writings remain as testimonials to her indefatigable spirit and ability to inspire others to much-needed action.”

We are offering signed copies of both “Voices of a Women’s Health Movement” and the new edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for donations of $150 or more. To receive your copies, donate online and then email your name and mailing address to