Our Bodies, Our Blog

Abortion and Women’s Rights in 1970: A Film

By Judy Norsigian |
screenshot from 1970 film on abortion and women's rights

In these scary times, with the Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, it’s more important than ever to understand the history of abortion and the devastating choices women face when they can’t access safe and legal abortion care. 

In 1971, when abortion was illegal in all but a few states, a group of women came together to make a documentary film. The film, the first from the perspective of women who had had or sought an abortion, has been restored, and last Thursday it was screened as part of a virtual fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. It’s now available on YouTube, for all to see. 

In introducing the film last night, Jane Pincus, one of the filmmakers and a founding member of Our Bodies Ourselves, spoke about the harrowing experiences of women who had illegal abortions and the context of the times. Her remarks are below.

We created our film in 1970, in the early days of the ‘second wave’ of the women’s movement in Boston. Many of us had been involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements.  Women who had never met together began to join uniquely women’s groups, talking about our relationships, our efforts to control our reproductive lives, our work. We discovered that we shared our problems and life situations with others; that what had seemed personal and individual was more wide-ranging; that social, governmental and economic systems oppressing women had to be changed. The times swept us up. We told our stories, felt a new power and optimism. We shared the conviction that we could change the world. We stepped up our marching and demonstrating at rallies. We performed street theater, joined in community organizing efforts and began speaking out at government hearings.

In 1969, a public radio broadcast galvanized me when I heard the voices of women testifying at the State House telling about their harrowing abortion experiences. The male legislators present in the room responded heartlessly and had no clue as to all that women have to endure. It remains an unnerving fact: When abortions are illegal, too many women end up with infection or so-called ‘septic abortions’ in hospitals. They can be maimed for life, or die. This was absolutely unacceptable. In the light of this knowledge, in the political climate of the times what could we do?

In answer, six of us [Jane, Sue Jhirad, Catha Maslow, Janet MurrayMary Summers, and Karen Weinstein] met to make a film about abortion and its place in the range of our needs to decide about our reproductive lives. We wanted to make public and clear the outrages stemming from women’s lack of choice. Once word went out about our plans, audiotapes of women telling their stories appeared – almost by magic, without our asking. We four amateur filmmakers were wielding a camera for the first time, creating dialogue and scenes dramatized by Sue and Janet, two activist friends. We were lucky and thankful to be able to use MIT’s film department’s editing and access to labs. After months and months of intense discussions as to how to film and shape the footage; after trials, failures and breakthroughs, we agreed to cut the visual scenes to the soundtrack of spliced-together women’s stories. Finally, it all came together. In the midst of our busy lives, it took us a year.

I am grateful beyond words to have been part of this endeavor with Karen, Mary, Catha, Sue and Janet, and with the women and men who contributed to our efforts.

After you watch the film, please join Our Bodies Ourselves and support efforts to prepare for the overturning of Roe v Wade. The Women’s Health Protection Act is a proposed federal law that would prohibit a range of abortion restrictions, including previability bans, state mandates of unnecessary procedures and inaccurate counseling, barriers to telemedicine abortion, TRAP laws, and forcing extra in-person visits to a doctor.

In Massachusetts, activists are working tirelessly on passing a bill called the Roe Act. There are similar efforts in other states. We must do all we can to protect the lives and well-being of women and families who will be harmed severely by the almost-certain upcoming decisions of the Supreme Court.

Diana Abwoye receiving an award for academic excellence in her Family Nurse Practitioner program.Diana Abwoye receiving an award for academic excellence in her Family Nurse Practitioner program.

Addressing Institutional Racism & Health Inequality: My Perspective

By Guest Contributor |

by Diana Namumbejja Abwoye

Diana Namumbejja Abwoye is a family nurse practitioner and a member of the Board of Directors of Our Bodies Ourselves who translated and adapted “Our Bodies, Ourselves” into Luganda.

Covid-19 has affected all aspects of our lives. It has exposed how much the United States is an unequal place for people of color. I will speak here from my own experience. It may not be a reflection of all people of color, but I hope it will help us get the … More

Adapting “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Brazilian Portuguese: The Translators’ Experiences

By OBOS |

“[H]aving the opportunity of translating … “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Brazilian Portuguese … brings me a profound sense of accomplishment, since there is not such a complete book on women’s health in Portuguese with so much information and so many references…. When we translate, we must consider the cultural identity of the women we are talking to, the means of reaching them, which information they need to have safer and more conscient lives. Each translation choice is also a political choice, inspired by reflections on … More

My Body, My Choice: Aesthetic Flat Closure after Mastectomy

By Guest Contributor |

by Kim Bowles

In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. After careful consideration and lots of research, I decided against getting breast implants or other conventional reconstructive surgery, because I wanted to get back to my normal life as quickly as possible. I told my surgeon that I wanted to “go flat” and put my request in writing, providing him photos of the kind of flat chest I was hoping for. 

When I woke up from surgery, I was horrified … More

Women with Breast Implants Should Not Need to Wait for Safety Information They Urgently Need

By Guest Contributor |

by Rose Weitz and Diana Zuckerman

Although breast implants have been sold since the 1960s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the use of silicone gel breast implants in 2006. By then, many women with implants had already reported a range of problems, which result in many women seeking additional surgery within just a few years of implantation. 

And the problems have become more serious. Last year, for example, Allergan did a worldwide recall of their textured Biocell breast implants and … More

Free the Pill!

By Guest Contributor |

by Carrie Baker

Sixty years ago this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the birth control pill for distribution in the United States — a game changer for women’s lives. Before approval of the pill, most women were married by age 19, and more than half of them were pregnant within the first seven months.

Once the pill became available, women for the first time in history had a reliable form of contraception that freed them from the unrelenting fear of unwanted pregnancies. With a … More

group shot of young reproductive justice advocatesgroup shot of young reproductive justice advocates

Please Support Civil Liberties and Public Policy During the Covid-19 Crisis: An Appeal from Judy Norsigian

By Judy Norsigian |

These challenging times require fierce, broad, and intersectional activism – which is just what Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) has been doing for the past four decades. This now-independent nonprofit, which used to be affiliated with Hampshire College, continues its unique movement-building work preparing younger activists to work on the front lines of today’s struggle for reproductive justice. Please consider supporting CLPP today with a generous donation. 

As we know, the Covid-19 pandemic is disproportionately harming those in our communities who were already facing … More

photo of quote from Barbara Seamanphoto of quote from Barbara Seaman

Our Doctors, Ourselves: Barbara Seaman and Popular Health Feminism in the 1970s

By OBOS |

“If the plastic speculum was the tool of choice for self-help advocates, leading women to a better understanding of their own bodies, then the popular media was Barbara Seaman’s preferred weapon in the cultural battle against medical sexism.”
— Kelly O’Donnell, in her article “Our Doctors, Ourselves: Barbara Seaman and Popular Health Feminism in the 1970s”

Barbara Seaman, a popular journalist in the 1960s and 70s who wrote for magazines including Brides, Ms., Ladies Home Journal, and Family Circle, was one of the first journalists to … More

The Very Early Perimenopause: What We Can Learn from Dr. Jerilynn Prior’s Research

By Guest Contributor |

by Nina Coslov

In my early 40s, I started noticing changes in my body. A once great sleeper, I was now waking at 2 a.m. – often with lots of energy and sometimes with anxiety. I’d be awake for about 3 hours before I could get back to sleep. Around the same time, premenstrual breast tenderness returned — something I hadn’t experienced since my 20s, before I had children. Not long after, I’d notice from time to time a pervasive edginess, a revving — an energetic … More

Woman handing menstrual supplies to Colombian prisonersWoman handing menstrual supplies to Colombian prisoners

Dirty Business: Lack of Menstrual Equity in Colombian Prisons

By Guest Contributor |

By Charlie Ruth Castro

Lee este post en español

Let’s talk about menstruation – a natural and necessary process among women, but one that we have been culturally taught to hate, hide or even make fun of.  Also, let me talk about a dirty business perpetrated by certain officers from INPEC, the Colombian national institution in charge of penitentiary policy. In many prisons, INPEC has routinely failed to supply adequate menstrual products for the female prison population.

Being deprived of ways to deal with bleeding is outrageous, … More