For over 50 years, Our Bodies Ourselves has collaborated with individuals and organizations to promote the health and well-being of women. Below are highlights of the advocacy work we continue to engage in.
Abortion & Reproductive Justice
Breast Implants: Safety & Health
Egg Donation: Associated Risks & Transparency
International Commercial Surrogacy
Pregnancy & Birth
The V Initiative: Advancing Vulvovaginal Education and Care
Educate Congress – and All Public Officials
ABORTION & REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE
Thanks to the reproductive justice collective SisterSong and the group’s allies and partners, reproductive justice is a phrase and a concept well-known within the reproductive health and rights movement. But it wasn’t always this way. In 1994, a group of Black women issued a public call to action in the Washington Post demanding that the healthcare needs of the most marginalized be included in President Clinton’s healthcare reform legislation. Specifically, they demanded universal health care and spoke to the necessity for Black women’s access to reproductive health care.
The call helped catapult a broader understanding of the intersection of human rights and reproductive rights for women of color. The reproductive justice movement places abortion rights within a larger framework that includes maternal and infant health, economic justice, racial equality, and ending violence against women. This perspective informs the work of Our Bodies Ourselves.
In 2019 the board and founders of Our Bodies Ourselves released a statement on abortion and reproductive justice.
In 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Our Bodies Ourselves joined the National Women’s Health Network and 80 other women’s health, public health, and reproductive justice advocates to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift the medically unnecessary restrictions on mifepristone, one of the two FDA approved medications that induces abortion. The FDA requires people prescribed mifepristone to pick it up in person from a registered clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital. In spring 2021, reproductive health advocates won a hard-fought victory when the FDA announced that it would stop enforcing the requirement, at least for the remainder of the pandemic, allowing people to get mifepristone through mail-order pharmacies or by delivery from their providers.
BREAST IMPLANTS: SAFETY & HEALTH
While breast augmentation procedures are popular, many women remain unaware of the potential health risks and the debate over implant safety. OBOS has worked for years to ensure that women are fully informed about the safety risks of breast implants and are able to remove implants when their health is at risk.
After the passage of the Affordable Care Act, OBOS worked with the National Center for Health Research in several key states to ensure that health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act cover treatment and breast implant removal when it is medically necessary — such as for removal of leaking breast implants, painful capsular contracture, or ALCL, a rare type of lymphoma that can be caused by breast implants.
OBOS has also worked collaboratively with Carol Ciancutti, director of the acclaimed documentary “Absolutely Safe.” Carol and Judy Norsigian, OBOS’s current board chair, have toured the country to screen the film and meet with college students and community groups to discuss the health risks of implants. The movie’s goal is to “bring the controversy into focus, leaving viewers more informed and inspired to ask questions about implant safety, implant regulation, the rising popularity of implants, and the reasons why so many women make this choice.”
In 2018, OBOS and Carol created new resources to update the information in the film and to help facilitate rich discussions at public screenings. These resources include a discussion guide for college and university professors and community educators, to use in conjunction with screenings, an update on breast implant safety, a list of resources for teachers, and a video about breast reconstruction options.
If you, or anyone you know, have breast implants that are making you sick and need to be removed, please contact the National Center for Health Research: info[AT]breastimplantinfo.org. They can help you try to get health insurance to cover your medically necessary breast implant removal surgery.
For more information, see Facts About Breast Implants.
EGG DONATION: ASSOCIATED RISKS & TRANSPARENCY
As couples and individuals rely more on assisted reproductive technologies to address infertility and to make parenthood possible for single women and same-sex couples, the demand for donor eggs is on the rise. Our Bodies Ourselves has raised concerns about the lack of safety data — especially long-term safety data — regarding the health risks egg donors may face.
Beginning in the early 2000s, infertility clinics increased recruitment of young women, encouraging them to donate their eggs for infertility and research purposes. These ads became especially common on college campuses and in public spaces where they were likely to be seen by college-age women.
In response, OBOS launched a petition to demonstrate to state and national policy makers the importance of implementing a national health registry to oversee donor health tracking. Other participating groups include the Alliance for Humane Biotechnology, Pro Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, and the Center for Genetics and Society.
The petition encourages long-term studies to better understand the health risks, particularly with respect to the impact of drugs used for both suppression and stimulation of the ovaries, and urges that advertisements and notices seeking egg donors be required to state that long-term risks of egg-harvesting procedures are unknown.
OBOS also partnered with the Infertility Family Research Registry, a volunteer registry based at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, to increase awareness of its data collection and encourage participation. In 2018, OBOS commissioned a video developed by Raquel Cool, co-founder of We Are Egg Donors. Raquel and others share their experiences and concerns related to paid egg donation, from the risks associated with unethically high numbers of harvested eggs to the absence of data on the long-term health of the women who provide these eggs.
What does it mean for a young woman’s future fertility or her longer term risk of cancer and other health problems if she provide eggs, especially if she does so repeatedly, within a short period of time? We simply don’t know enough — and this means that young women still do not have the information they need to make evidence-based choices or give truly informed consent.
INTERNATIONAL COMMERCIAL SURROGACY
International commercial surrogacy is largely regarded as a business; some even call it an industry. While there are well-meaning go-betweens who genuinely want to protect the interests of their clients — the intended parents — and help them form families, others prioritize their own interests, subjecting the parents to fraud and overcharging or denying them basic information. Either way, the vast majority of gestational mothers (surrogates) are left to fend for themselves, with no one looking out for their needs.
In 2016, OBOS created Surrogacy360.org, an educational website that serves as a clearinghouse for information on commercial international surrogacy and the effects on all parties: intended parents, donors, gestational mothers and children. The site promotes transparency and best medical practices by documenting the health, legal, and ethical aspects of surrogacy arrangements. The Center for Genetics & Society is now overseeing Surrogacy360.org.
In 2020, New York introduced legislation that would regulate surrogacy in the state. While Our Bodies Ourselves believes the industry desperately needs regulation, we are concerned that S.2071-B has a number of serious problems and lacks adequate protections for the health and rights of all participants in surrogacy agreements. Find out more about our concerns.
PREGNANCY & BIRTH: EVIDENCE-BASED CARE
U.S. maternity care is not always based on the best available evidence, nor is it distributed equally. The question is: What can be done about it?
OBOS has long supported a midwifery model of care as a way of encouraging adherence to evidence-based care that improves the health outcomes of both mothers and babies. The midwifery model is based on the assumption that most pregnancies, labors and births are normal physiological processes. The focus, therefore, is on maximizing the health and wellness of a woman and her baby, identifying and managing medical problems early on, and attending to the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of pregnancy and birth.
This differs from a strict medical model of care that views pregnancy, labor and birth as a risky act that must be managed with high-tech procedures and interventions, even when a pregnancy is low-risk. Read more about both models.
OBOS played an instrumental role in the development of Choices in Childbirth, a statement produced in collaboration with physicians, midwives and women’s health advocates. The statement, signed by hundreds of childbirth providers and advocates, supports preserving the option of vaginal birth after a cesarean, increasing access to in-hospital midwives, licensing certified professional midwives (CPMs) to make homebirth safer, and adhering to evidence-based practices to reduce pre-term and low-weight births.
OBOS has also helped build medical and political support for the licensing and regulation of Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs), especially in Massachusetts, where both House and Senate bills have been proposed. OBOS has encouraged support for MA S.1206/H.1189, “An Act Relative to Out-of-Hospital Birth Access and Safety,” which would require all midwives practicing in out-of-hospital settings to be accredited as certified professional midwives according to newly-established educational standards.
The bill establishes a special Committee on Midwifery under the Department of Public Health (with a majority of midwives) to determine practice guidelines and includes a Bridge Certificate for current direct entry midwives who need to upgrade their present status. Learn more about the bill and learn why OBOS co-founder Judy Norsigian and longtime midwife and educator Jo-Anna Rorie believe it is a key means of securing economic and racial justice for women who now cannot afford to pay for home birth midwives out of pocket.
THE V INITIATIVE: ADVANCING VULVOVAGINAL EDUCATION AND CARE
Ask almost any woman and she will tell you that, at some point in her life, she has had questions or symptoms related to her vulva or vagina. Menstruation, pads or tampons, discharge, odor, pubic hair, arousal, self-pleasuring, sex with penetration, contraception, fertility, safe sex, pregnancy and birth effects, postpartum and breastfeeding, self-image, sexual identity, sexually transmitted infections, pain with sex, lumps, bumps, urination, defecation, libido, itching, burning, inability to have penetration, inability to be touched, vulvar cancer. The list is long, and the questions and symptoms a woman has are often about more than simple biology: they relate to her relationships, her sense of self, her feelings of connectedness.
Yet, for a variety of reasons, including lack of training (especially about sexuality), overspecialization, insurance reimbursement policies and sexism, far too few health care providers have the training and knowledge that would allow them to fully address these questions and symptoms. In response, ob/gyn Elizabeth G. Stewart (author of “The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide To Complete Vulvovaginal Health”) and certified nurse midwife Ione Bissonnette created the online learning program Vulvovaginal Disorders: An Algorithm for Basic Adult Diagnosis and Treatment.
Geared primarily to health care providers, the site is patient-focused and includes a pathway through the patient visit, from complaint to diagnosis. Accompanying the diagnostic algorithm are detailed, evidenced-based annotations that explain each step, a color atlas of skin conditions, information on microscopy, pain disorders, sexuality, pelvic floor dysfunction, treatment plans, and patient handouts.
In 2021, Our Bodies Ourselves began a partnership with the creators of the program, which now lives under the OBOS umbrella. We hope the site, which is currently being updated and is available for free to all, will lift the veil of unknowing regarding the vulva and vagina and help both health care providers and women better understand the intricacies of vulva and vaginal health.
EDUCATE CONGRESS – AND ALL PUBLIC OFFICIALS
From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. -Former Rep. Todd Akin (Aug. 19, 2012)
This wildly inaccurate statement sparked OBOS’s sex-ed road trip with The Ladydrawers to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to then-Rep. Todd Akin and, in the spirit of non-partisanship, Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri.
Akin wasn’t the only politician who had his facts wrong; a string of inaccurate comments about women’s bodies followed in the fall of 2012, prompting numerous debates on the politics of women’s healthcare.
Readers suggested sending “Our Bodies, Ourselves” — a valued resource used in healthcare clinics and academic courses across the country — to every member of Congress.
The Educate Congress campaign kicked off at the National Press Club. Funds were raised via Indiegogo with this simple premise: Everyone deserves access to accurate information concerning women’s reproductive and sexual health — especially those who write the laws.
In early 2013, OBOS delivered books to all members of the U.S. House and Senate. Judy Norsigian, OBOS co-founder, made a number of deliveries in person. Read about Judy’s visit to Capitol Hill, accompanied by Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts, and Erin Thornton, EMC executive director.
Media coverage of Educate Congress:
- Congress to Get Copies of Feminist Book – Orange County Register
- Educating Congress, One Book at a Time – The Commons
- Educating Congress on Women’s Health – The Epoch Times
- Send a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Every Member of Congress – Feministing
- Women’s Health Group to Blanket Congress with Landmark Book – National Press Club
- Congressional Offices Getting “Our Bodies, Ourselves” – National Journal
- Reproductive Rights Groups Send Congressional Offices Copies Of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” – Think Progress
- Reproductive Rights Groups Launch Educate Congress Initiative – Ms Magazine
- “Our Bodies, Ourselves” Book Being Sent to Every Member of Congress – Fox News/ DC
- Christy Turlington, Women’s Groups Try To Give Congress A Sex Education – U.S. News & World Report
- Every member of Congress to receive copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” – Washington Examiner
- Christy Turlington Wants To Educate Congress On Women’s Health – Look to the Stars
- Groups Urge Congress To Make Science-Based Decisions on Women’s Health – The National Partnership for Women & Families Women’s Health Policy Report
- Akin Roadtrip: Our Quest to Bring Sex Education to the Man Who Invented “Legitimate Rape” – Truthout
- Todd Akins Very Own Copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” is Being Rush-Delivered to Him Right Now – Jezebel
- Todd Akin to Finally Receive His Sex Ed., in the Form of Book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” – NY Daily News
- Urgent Delivery of Sex-Ed Textbooks Headed Todd Akin’s Way – MSN.com
- Yes, Virginia, There Is Comprehensive Sex Ed in Missouri – Express Milwaukee
- Sex Ed Books on Way to Akin in St. Louis – Louis Post-Dispatch
- Library of Congress Has a Book for Akin – Louis Post-Dispatch