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© Ellen Shub

Activism & Advocacy

Understanding how our bodies work and learning to navigate the healthcare system are vital. But many aspects of our health, from abortion access to violence and abuse, are beyond our individual control. To truly improve our lives, we must address the political, economic, and social factors that shape our health, including the privatized, for-profit medical system that leaves tens of millions without the coverage they need, the pharmaceutical companies unethically promoting drugs, and the right-wing forces that restrict bodily autonomy.

Currently, Our Bodies Ourselves is actively engaged in the following issues:

Over the years we have collaborated with many individuals and organizations. The credibility and reputation of Our Bodies Ourselves have been central to establishing us as a key voice in policy, advocacy and educational efforts related to women’s health. Learn more about our history and legacy.

ACCESS TO ABORTION CARE

In the face of increasing threats to reproductive freedom, Our Bodies Ourselves advocates for the right of all pregnant people to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.

Abortion pills – a combination of the medications mifepristone and misoprostol – are a safe and effective way to end an early pregnancy. Many people go to their healthcare providers or to a clinic such as Planned Parenthood to get a medication (non-surgical) abortion, but increasingly, U.S. laws and politics are making it more difficult to do so.

When abortion is restricted and not easily available, people are forced to travel long distances, take off time from work, and pay for transportation, accommodations, and childcare. As clinic-based options dwindle in parts of the country, access to medication abortion becomes even more critical.

We are currently working with a number of close colleagues in the legal field and at Plan C to develop strategies for expanding both awareness of and access to medication abortion. In particular we are focused on spreading the word that people in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and most U.S. territories, can make an online consultation with an abortion care provider and get abortion pills delivered through the U.S. mail.

Learn more:

ACCESS TO MIDWIFERY CARE

The midwifery model of care is based on the assumption that most pregnancies, labors, and births are normal biological processes that result in healthy outcomes for both mothers and babies. It focuses on maximizing the health and well-being 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. Despite much research showing the advantages of the midwifery model of care, fewer than 10% of births in the U.S. are attended by midwives.

Our Bodies Ourselves has long advocated for greater access to midwifery care in all birth settings. Today we continue our midwifery advocacy work, much of it in collaboration with the Bay State Birth Coalition. Together, we are working to pass legislation that will allow Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) to be licensed and regulated in Massachusetts (as they are in 33 other states already) and for insurance companies and MassHealth to cover home midwifery care. We also hope to make major progress this year toward opening the Neighborhood Birth Center, Boston’s first freestanding birth center designed especially to redress racial inequities in birth outcomes and experiences.

Learn more: View letters from Our Bodies Ourselves in support of the proposed Massachusetts state bill that would allow for the licensing and regulation of Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs).

BREAST IMPLANT SAFETY

Each year, more than 300,000 women and teenagers in the U.S. get breast implants, either for cosmetic reasons or as part of reconstruction after breast cancer surgery. Some of them experience complications directly caused by the implants, such as increased risk of a rare kind of breast cancer, and others experience symptoms and illnesses that appear to be more common in women who receive implants. Many who have the surgery are unaware of the health risks or the ongoing debate over implant safety. Today the Food and Drug Administration does not adequately inform the public about the agreed-upon risks of breast implants, and too few plastic surgeons provide truly informed consent. Our Bodies Ourselves has worked for years to ensure that women are fully informed about the risks and are able to remove implants if they choose to.

Learn more: What You Need to Know About Breast Implants, an article from our close collaborator, the National Center for Health Research.

REPROGENETICS: ADVANCING HEALTH AND REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE

A new era in human reproduction is here. Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) present unprecedented opportunities in family formation for people with infertility, unmarried and single individuals, and the LGBTQ+ community. At the same time, they pose major risks for others – especially women who provide their services in contractual third-party reproduction.

ARTs and related commercial arrangements have given rise to a multi-billion dollar, largely unregulated global fertility industry and amplified global inequities. Despite the magnitude of their implications, they are, so far, largely under the radar of public awareness and absent from civil society discourse. When they garner attention, the complex issues embedded in these technologies, practices, and social arrangements are discussed as seemingly separate and niche issues that have little to do with the broader revolution that is underway and out of sight. Take, for example:

  • Employee benefits like egg freezing offered initially by trend-setting companies like Facebook, Intel, and Apple but now offered by about 1 in 10 companies with 500+ employees
  • The courting of young women at prestigious universities in the United States for their “Ivy league” eggs
  • The recruitment of women drawn by poverty to become “surrogate” mothers in places like India, Vietnam, and Mexico
  • The practice of “assembling the global baby,” as it was dubbed by the Wall Street Journal
  • The tacit acceptance of eugenically driven options, including sex and trait selection, offered to intended parents during fertility treatment.

Any one of these developments, examined separately, might seem inconsequential or too peripheral to warrant sustained attention, social action, or new public policy. Yet, taken together, this 21st century landscape of childbearing poses urgent societal questions: How can we make use of the enormous benefits of ARTs and related arrangements while ensuring we do not do so at the risk of our own and others’ health and human rights? How can we ensure expanded options for family formation for everyone and, at the same time, avoid new forms of marginalization and health risks for those who make these options possible?

Since the early 2000s, Our Bodies Ourselves has collaborated with a broad coalition of groups working to engage the public and advocate for responsible practice and governance of assisted reproduction. 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, gamete donors, gestational mothers and children. The site promotes transparency and best medical practices by documenting the health, legal, and ethical aspects of surrogacy arrangements. Our close collaborator, the Center for Genetics & Society, is now overseeing Surrogacy360.org.

Our Bodies Ourselves’ current work in assisted reproduction includes raising awareness among young women who increasingly assume their future childbearing will necessitate IVF or other expensive technologies and social arrangements. Further, with fertility clinics now offering “add-ons” for sex and trait selection, we are working with allies to get the word out about the potential rise of a market driven eugenics in which affluent consumers opt for presumed genetic advantages for their children. Specifically, our current work includes:

  • Engaging with allies on key ART/surrogacy bills as they arise across the country
  • Developing public education materials on surrogacy and human gene modification as these issues converge with the growth of the global fertility industry
  • Highlighting the work of our collaborators at We Are Egg Donors

Together with our long-standing networks – both domestic and global – we are working to ensure that biotechnologies hold promise rather than harm for the human future.

Learn more: View and download infographics on Commercial International Surrogacy.

The Teen Voices Legacy Project

Teen Voices (1988-2012) was a trailblazing journalism, mentoring, and youth leadership nonprofit that produced an internationally distributed magazine written entirely by and for teen girls. The Boston-based organization played a transformative role in the lives of hundreds of teen girls in the Boston area and thousands of teen readers and writers around the world.

In 2021, under the umbrella of Our Bodies Ourselves, a group of Teen Voices staff, teen leaders, board, and advisory board members came together to create The Teen Voices Legacy Project. The group is working with the Schlesinger Library at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute to preserve and steward the Teen Voices digital and print files, ensuring they will be available among its renowned collection of feminist materials to scholars and the general public for generations to come. The group has also begun an oral history project to capture the voices of the many girls who wrote articles, shared personal stories, and participated in Teen Voices programs.

Learn more about the project and watch video tributes from those involved.

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. The list is long: menstruation, pads or tampons, discharge, odor, pubic hair, arousal, self-pleasuring, sex with penetration, contraception, fertility, safe sex, pregnancy and birth effects, postpartum, 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 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 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.