Affirming the Autonomy of Indigenous Women

November is National American Indian Heritage Month. As we celebrate the positive sides of Indigenous Nations’ histories, we must acknowledge that the U.S. government has both robbed Native Americans of their land and, through the policies of the Indian Health Service division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, made it difficult for Indigenous people to access quality health care.

Indian Health Service (IHS) was established in 1955 with the stated goal of improving the health care of Native Americans living on reservations. However, Indigenous women who came into IHS clinics for something as common as vaccinations were often sterilized without their consent. During the 1960s and 1970s, 25 to 50 percent of women who visited IHS clinics (approximately 3,406 women) were sterilized without their knowledge. Methods of sterilization included partial or full hysterectomies, and tubal ligations.


Bodily autonomy is about having the power to decide for oneself whether and when to bear children.


The IHS had a clear objective: population control (aka “genocide”). Census data collected during the 1970s showed that Native Americans had birthrates that were much higher than white communities. According to census data, the average American Indian woman had 3.79 children, while white women had 1.79 children. The 1980 census revealed that the average birthrate for white women was 2.14, while the birthrate for Indigenous women was 1.99. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that this is a drastic contrast.

Myla Vicenti Carpio, a professor of American Indian studies at Arizona State University, explains: Continue reading

101 Years Ago Today: Sanger’s First Clinic Opens its Doors

Clinic at 46 Amboy Street

“The poor, century-behind-the-times public officials of this country might as well forget their moss-grown statutes and accept birth control as an established fact. My new national plan makes it as inevitable as night and day.” – Margaret Sanger, October 22, 1916

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, said these words a full century ago, denouncing lawmakers who wished to throw obstacles between women and access to contraception. Her vision for the future was one in which reliable birth control was widely available without controversy. It is frustrating and outright embarrassing that we are still fighting for the right of women to control their own bodies, especially when it comes to reproductive health care.

Different methods of birth control have been used since the ninth century. However, birth control as we know it today was not easily accessible in the United States until the early 1900s.

Sanger helped popularize the term “birth control” because she felt that women had the right to control their own bodies and determine when, and if, they would have children. Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on October 16, 1916 — 101 years ago today. She and her sister, Ethel Byrne, had spent time researching reproductive health care access in the Netherlands, which inspired them to start their own clinic in the United States. They spent time talking to residents in Brooklyn to ensure that the community would be comfortable having a birth control clinic in their neighborhood. Continue reading

Eroding the Birth Control Mandate

The Trump Administration made its boldest move against contraception access on Friday, when it reversed Obama-era policies requiring most employers to include birth control in employee insurance plans. Nonprofit companies, private firms, and publicly traded companies can opt out of providing birth control through employee insurance plans by claiming a “sincerely held religious or moral objection.” This change was made, effective immediately, with no period for public comment.


If you have insurance that still covers contraception, now might be the time to look into IUDs or implants, which can last for at least three years.


Previously, only a small group of religious employers was exempt from the requirement to include birth control in employee insurance plans; the new rule expands the types of businesses that can claim religious exemptions. Furthermore, these employers need not cite any particular religious beliefs, but can simply claim to have moral objections to birth control in order to opt out of including contraception in employee insurance plans.

The ruling drew condemnation from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, contraception is considered a “preventive” service and, therefore, legally must be made available with no out-of-pocket costs to patients. Zero-copay birth control, as this is called, has saved users and their families billions of dollars in the years it has been in effect. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Earlier this week, the tools in Congress voted to ban abortion at 20 weeks. They totally, ignorantly ignored the fact that many fetal anomalies cannot be discovered until past that period in a woman’s gestation. Alexis Miller, who was overjoyed to be pregnant, is one of those women and her story of needing a late abortion is powerful. (Time)
  • More Congressional tomfoolery to report on this subject. These morons justified their vote to criminalize abortion after 20 weeks by using the awful mass shooting that took place a few days ago in Las Vegas to illustrate how much they value life and “have” to protect it. Really? How about passing some restrictions on guns, then? How many 5-, 6-, and 7-year-old children died in Sandy Hook? Why do these lawmakers value an unborn fetus the size of a kidney bean more than they do living, breathing human beings??? (Think Progress)
  • Studies indicate that black women have fewer sexual partners and are more likely to use condoms than white women from similar economic backgrounds. And they are not members of the highest-risk demographic: gay and bisexual men. So why are black women in Philadelphia at a higher risk of contracting HIV than their white counterparts? (Philly.com)
  • One thing I never hear anti-abortion folk (who cling to the term “pro-life”) cry over? The fact that the U.S. infant mortality rate among black babies is more than twice as high as it is for white babies. How can you be “pro-life” and never put your advocacy efforts toward helping born children survive? It’s baffling, isn’t it? Luckily, some people DO care, and many cities are turning to doulas to help these babies survive. (WaPo)
  • Anyway, while the folks in the House were passing an abortion ban because they care so much about babies, children, and “life” … they let the Children’s Health Insurance Plan expire, potentially leaving millions of poor children without any health insurance. I guess it’s OK if already-born children suffer and die since technically they’re out of the womb? (HuffPo)
  • Republican hypocrite Tim Murphy, who is SO pro-life he’s never fostered or adopted any children in need, is resigning from Congress after the news that he urged his mistress to have an abortion became public. Murphy, a House Pro-Life Caucus member, voted this week to restrict abortion AGAIN and has a lengthy record of similar votes. The hypocrisy, while not at all stunning, is infuriating. This wretched human being has done everything in his legislative power to take away women’s choices and dominion over their bodies under the guise of valuing life. Yet when a life that HE helped create threatened to disrupt his double life, he was all too willing to terminate it. Good riddance to this trash legislator. Pennsylvania deserves better. (Politico)
  • Could male birth control finally be on the horizon, like, for real?! Maybe! The creators of a male birth control gel (which will be applied on the shoulders, of all places!) designed to inhibit sperm production — while maintaining healthy testosterone levels in the bloodstream — will soon start recruiting 420 couples from around the world to enroll in a new clinical trial. (Scientific American)
  • Rewire has a heartbreaking write-up on the first victim who lost her life due to the Hyde Amendment. Rest in grace, Rosie Jimenez. (Rewire)
  • STDs are at an ALL-TIME HIGH in this country right now! (Time)
  • The Ontario government has introduced groundbreaking legislation that will create protest-free buffer zones around abortion clinics, the homes of doctors and staff, and even pharmacies and offices that provide pills used to terminate pregnancy. Yasss Canada! Kudos to you! (Toronto Star)

Celebrating Mexico’s Contributions to the Birth Control Pill

September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. We’re celebrating by shining the spotlight on Mexico’s role in developing the birth control pill, one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the 20th century.


Humanity cannot fully unlock its potential until we release the bonds of oppression from all marginalized groups.


Underneath the surface of a large swath of Southern Mexico’s jungles lay the enormous roots of a wild yam, Dioscorea composita, known locally as barbasco. Mostly it was considered a nuisance, as it could get in the way of subsistence agriculture, but it did have its uses in traditional medicine — and it would change history forever when scientists figured out how to wrest valuable chemical compounds from it, a discovery that led directly to the development of the birth control pill.

Russell Marker. Image: Penn State University ArchivesIn the 1940s, hormones held an untapped potential for research, but there was no cost-effective method of producing large quantities of them — including progesterone, the Pill’s essential ingredient. An American chemist named Russell Marker set out to find a way to synthesize progesterone in abundance, hypothesizing that plants from the genus Dioscorea, which includes yams and agaves, would be a good source for starting material. After some research, he set his sights on wild-growing yams that were found only in Mexico.

Marker’s hunch brought him south of the U.S. border, where locals helped him find and gather these yams, enabling him to develop a method for synthesizing large batches of progesterone — more than had ever been in one place. When pharmaceutical companies would not invest in further research in Mexico, Marker relocated to Mexico City and put his money where his mouth was. In January 1944, he co-founded a lab named Syntex — a portmanteau of “synthesis” and “Mexico” — devoted to finagling hormones from wild Mexican yams. That yam was called barbasco by the indigenous population, and it was the industry’s choice for the raw material in hormone synthesis. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Something good is emerging from the horror that is Hurricane Harvey — a Texas clinic is offering free abortions to women affected by the storm who may have missed appointments or had their finances severely impacted. Their help will be “financial and logistical” and includes helping women travel to one of their clinics in the state. (Vice)
  • Another piece of good news? Planned Parenthood and the developers of the HPV vaccine will be recipients of one of the nation’s most prestigious prizes in medicine! (NY Times)
  • Betsy DeVos is probably going to ruin any progress currently being made with regard to sexual assault on school campuses. (NPR)
  • Count me as one of the black women who think it’s time for the monument of J. Marion Sims in New York to come down. He is often flatteringly referred to as the “father of modern gynecology,” but he was actually a sadistic monster who performed genital surgeries on black women (whom he purchased as slaves) without anesthesia. (Essence)
  • Anti-choice lawmakers’ attacks on abortion clinics have been sadly very effective. Fifty-six independent abortion clinics have closed over the past two years, and 145 have shut down since 2012. (Rewire)
  • Kentucky could definitely be a casualty of this trend. They could soon be the first state in the country with no abortion clinic. (Reuters)
  • Birth control is good for many things: preventing babies, regulating periods, preventing ovarian cysts, managing endometriosis … and now we learn oral contraceptives are also tied to lower rheumatoid arthritis risk! (NY Times)
  • A Texas judge temporarily blocked a law that would have banned dilation and extraction abortions in the state. (The Cut)
  • Awful news: A 10-year-old Indian rape victim gave birth after a court denied her request for an abortion. (WaPo)
  • An “activist” Ohio Supreme Court judge spoke at a pro-life event and now refuses to recuse herself from a case that could close Toledo’s only abortion clinic. (Jezebel)
  • Anti-Abortion Activists Are Using Down Syndrome Parents to Argue Against Women’s Rights (Double X)
  • More black women are using PrEP as a way to protect themselves from HIV. (Real Health Mag)

No, the Morning-After Pill Is Not the Abortion Pill

The other week, I was talking to a family member about the threats to contraception access in this country, “thanks” to our new president and his fanatical administration. He thought it was ridiculous that abortion opponents also fight tooth and nail to put obstacles in front of birth control — after all, reliable contraception prevents unintended pregnancies, which itself prevents untold abortions. It seems like a win-win for everyone, regardless of where their opinion on abortion falls.


The morning-after pill prevents pregnancy. The abortion pill ends pregnancy.


Then he said, “Of course, I understand them not wanting tax dollars going toward the morning-after pill, since that causes abortion.”

I had to stop him right there: “Nope.” A bit self-conscious of appearing to be a persnickety know-it-all, I summarized the vast differences between the morning-after pill and the abortion pill — differences that many people, even full supporters of reproductive rights, don’t understand. Opponents of abortion and contraception exploit this misunderstanding, pretending these two pills are one and the same, hoping to elicit “compromise” from “reasonable” people. Compromises that harm real people with real lives and real families. Just as women’s health opponents have been so successful at chipping away at abortion access, so too do they hope to erode access to contraception.

The morning-after pill and the abortion pill are completely different medications, used for different purposes and made up of different ingredients. Let’s look at a quick rundown of the two. Continue reading