Our Bodies, Our Blog

Refusing to Be Silenced: Federal Gag Rule an Active Threat to All Who Care about HIV

By Guest Contributor |

by Anna Forbes

On April 23, Judge Michael McShane of Federal District Court in Oregon issued a preliminary injunction against a federal “gag rule” written to forbid health care providers from even talking about abortion to patients who have questions about it.

The two parallel suits before him were filed by the American Medical Association, Planned Parenthood of America, and a coalition of over 20 states (along with numerous other plaintiffs) that oppose this gag rule.

Scheduled to go into effect on for May 3, the rule would have directly affected the millions of people who receive Title X-funded health care services, including contraception, cancer screening, and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Title X was created by Congress in 1970 so that “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” Each year, about four million people receive services funded by Title X providers who administered, among other services, 1.2 million HIV tests. At present, 92% of family planning providers in the United States offer HIV testing and 97% test for and treat other STIs.

The gag rule is an active threat to all who care about HIV prevention, treatment and rights. Health care providers across the United States depend on Title X funding to help keep their doors open.

If the gag rule ever goes into effect, providers will have to choose between depriving their patients of legitimate health information or losing their Title X funding.

Most heterosexually active cisgender women and some transgender men spend about 25 years of our lives (from teen years to our 40s) managing the realities of pregnancy and contraception. Only a minority of us are living with HIV, but the Trump administration’s gag rule is emblematic of other challenges we have already countered with activism.

Consider the following:

They want to buy silence. Health care providers refusing to be silenced by the gag rule would be barred from accessing any part of the $286 million allocated to Title X.

  • Remember when just talking about syringe exchange as HIV prevention could get your Ryan White CARE Act money threatened?

It hurts low income populations the most. Nearly 78% of people who receive their health care from Title X providers have incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. 

  • Remember the struggle in the 1980s to get the Ryan White CARE Act because some Congress members saw it as funding immorality? People who use services funded by Ryan White aren’t rich either.

More Black women proportionally rely more on family planning clinics. In 2016, 21% of the Title X clinic users were Black women while 54% were white and 16% did not identify their race. In the U.S. national population, 61% of all women are white and 14% of women are Black.   

It’s just harder for women in the South, especially in rural areas, to find family planning providers. And most of the states already imposing a state-wide gag rules are in the South.

  • As a result, Southern women with HIV get less health care and face more stigma and governmental contempt. 

Refilling one’s contraception prescription has a different level of urgency than does — for example — going to the dentist or going for an annual checkup. Sixty percent of U.S. women who get their care from a publicly funded family planning centers identify the local family planning provider is their “usual source of health care.” Forty percent said the clinic was their only source of health care. Avoiding unintended pregnancy reliably motivates clinic visits which, in turn, can include HIV testing, counseling and support.  

Because they are seen as safe spaces, most women are willing to accept HIV testing and prevention education in a family planning clinic. Staff can then link people to ongoing HIV care and support as needed. Especially to women living in communities without other affordable and accessible HIV information and care, family planning clinics are essential.

As HIV activists and advocates, we have a duty to stop the Trump administration’s efforts to attach a gag rule to Title X. It is our fight, just as demanding culturally appropriate HIV outreach, prevention, care and services for people of all genders is our fight.

“A Female Body in this Specific Moment”: Our Bodies Ourselves Exhibition

By OBOS |

As the 50th anniversary of the first edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” approaches, a New Haven museum has launched an exhibition featuring art inspired and informed by the book.

The exhibition, also titled Our Bodies Ourselves, features a variety of media created by more than 70 artists. The works are on display at the Ely Center of Contemporary Art through April 10.

A sack that hangs with the video from “Gestation” Photo: Lucy Gellman

The exhibit includes participatory installations like Megan Shaughnessy’s video work, which … More

three early teenage girls laughingthree early teenage girls laughing

Gender-Inclusive Puberty and Health Education is Life-Affirming for All

By Guest Contributor |

by Joel Baum and Kim Westheimer

A fifth-grade student walks into their first-ever puberty education class. They look around the room: maybe they feel like everyone else has already developed in ways they haven’t. Maybe they wonder why they already have characteristics a person of their gender isn’t “supposed” to have for a few more years. Or maybe they feel like they just can’t identify with lessons that should be giving them vital information about puberty and health.

Indeed, most puberty education classes omit foundational issues … More

Cervical Cancer Prevention posterCervical Cancer Prevention poster

Cervical Cancer Prevention: What You Can Do

By Guest Contributor |

by Gary A. Richwald, MD, MPH

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. More specifically, January 21-27 is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, and for good reason: nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 4000 of them will die from it. Luckily, this form of cancer is now largely preventable. Women can take steps to reduce their chances of contracting human papillomavirus (HPV), a widespread virus that can cause pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.

How Does Cervical Cancer … More

headshot of Dr. Constance Chenheadshot of Dr. Constance Chen

Breast Reconstruction Options: What’s Best for You?

By OBOS |

Some women decide to forego reconstruction and instead “go flat.” Read more->Women with breast cancer who undergo mastectomies often face difficult decisions about breast reconstruction. The first is whether or not to undergo reconstruction; the second, if reconstruction is chosen, is what kind of reconstruction to have?

Learn more about the risks of breast implants and the need for better research ->Breasts can be rebuilt using implants — either saline or silicone — or they can be rebuilt using autologous tissue, which means tissue … More

A Call for Women Who Experience Pain with Sex and for Health Care Providers Who Treat Them

By Guest Contributor |

by Marta Milkowska

My name is Marta Milkowska and I am a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I am working on a project aimed to better understand the problem of pain during sex – something experienced by many women. This summer, with support from Our Bodies Ourselves and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women in Public Policy Program, I am seeking interviews with individuals who fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Women ages 16 to 35 who experience pain during … More

A Message About the Future of Our Bodies Ourselves

By OBOS |

Earlier this year, OBOS held a retreat to determine our future. We came to the painful conclusion that we don’t have the resources and infrastructure to continue our main programs using paid staff. Instead we will transition to a volunteer-led 501(c)3 that will mainly advocate for women’s health and social justice. More

Religion-Restricted Healthcare and its Effects on Reproductive Health Needs

By Guest Contributor |

by Rebekah Rollston

In my last year of medical school, I began looking into residency programs in obstetrics and gynecology. My first interview of the season was at a Catholic-affiliated hospital.

As the daughter of a religion scholar and professor, I was already familiar with the stance of the Catholic Church on reproductive healthcare. I knew that Catholic hospitals follow a set of ethical guidelines that prohibit doctors from providing abortions, contraception, tubal ligations, vasectomies, and infertility services, and that patients seeking these services are generally referred … More