Our Bodies, Ourselves, a succession to a pamphlet of resources pulled from co-ops of women in and around Boston, Massachusetts was published in New York in 1973 by Simon and Schuster. Retitled from the original Women and Their Bodies, Our Bodies, Ourselves was an effort by a group of educated, middle class women to reinforce women's ownership of their bodies. There have been eight editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves, as well as sequels such as Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth and Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause. Our Bodies, Ourselves has sold more than four million copies and been printed in twenty foreign-language editions.
The copper intrauterine device, or IUD, is a long-term, reversible contraceptive first introduced by Howard Tatum and Jamie Zipper in 1967. Health care providers place an IUD inside a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. Copper IUDs are typically made of T-shaped plastic with some portion covered with exposed copper. Prior to the invention of the first IUDs, women had few long-term options for safe and reliable birth control. Those options mostly consisted of barrier methods and the oral birth control pill, which were only effective if used correctly and consistently. For women seeking to control their fertility, a copper IUD was one of the first forms of long-term birth control that was highly effective and did not require consistent and regular action on the woman’s part to remain effective.
In the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court ruled that laws banning abortion violated the US Constitution. The Texas abortion laws, articles 1191–1194, and 1196 of the Texas penal code, made abortion illegal and criminalized those who performed or facilitated the procedure. Prior to Roe v. Wade, most states heavily regulated or banned abortions. The US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade secured women's rights to terminate pregnancies for any reasons within the first trimester of pregnancy. It also sparked legal discussions of abortion, fetus viability and personhood, and the trimester framework, setting a landmark precedent for future cases including Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and Stenberg v. Carhart (2000).
In “Explaining Recent Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy in the United States: The Contribution of Abstinence and Improved Contraceptive Use,” hereafter “Explaining Recent Declines,” researchers John S. Santelli, Laura Duberstein Lindberg, Lawrence B. Finer, and Susheela Singh discuss what led to the major decline in US adolescent pregnancy rates from 1995 to 2002. Working with the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization, they found that the decline in US adolescent pregnancy rates between 1995 and 2002 was primarily due to improved contraceptive use. They published their article in 2007 after the US government had increased funding for abstinence-only education between 1998 and 2007. “Explaining Recent Declines” challenged US policies by asserting that there was minimal evidence to support abstinence-only sex education as the primary strategy to prevent adolescent pregnancy.
Dysmenorrhea refers to painful menstrual bleeding and often includes symptoms such as cramps in the lower abdominal region, pain radiating down to the thighs, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and headaches. There are two types of dysmenorrhea, called primary and secondary dysmenorrhea, which develop in different ways. In cases of primary dysmenorrhea, people experience painful cramps before and during most of their menstrual cycles, which does not happen as a result of a different underlying condition and is mostly due to hormone imbalances. On the other hand, secondary dysmenorrhea is a symptom of an underlying condition that cause problems with the reproductive organs such as endometriosis. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, researchers have reported that dysmenorrhea impacts up to fifty to ninety percent of women, remaining one of the most common reasons why women miss days of school and work as of 2021, and contributing to decreased quality of life.
Endometriosis is a medical condition that involves abnormal growths of tissue resembling the endometrium, which is the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus. Those growths, called endometrial lesions, typically form outside the uterus, but can spread to other reproductive organs such as ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometrial lesions swell and bleed during menstruation, which can cause painful and heavy menstruation, as well as infertility. As of 2021, there is no cure for endometriosis, although medical therapies such as birth control pills and GnRH analogues can treat the painful symptoms of endometriosis. More than eleven percent of women between the ages fifteen and forty-four in the US have endometriosis, which can often decrease a woman’s quality of life due to painful symptoms and impair her reproductive potential.
Misericordia et Misera (Mercy with Misery) was a letter written by Pope Francis and published in Rome, Italy, on 20 November 2016. Through the letter, Pope Francis gives priests the ability to grant forgiveness for abortion. Before Pope Francis’s letter, priests had some ability to grant forgiveness for the Catholic sin of abortion, but bishops had to grant that ability to the priests individually. Prior to the letter, the official rules of the Catholic Church did not state that priests could forgive abortion-related sins. The extension provided in the letter did not change the status of abortion as a grave sin that could result in excommunication. By extending that ability to priests, Pope Francis made forgiveness through the Catholic Church more accessible for women, doctors, and those who take part in an abortion, which started a discussion about the status of abortion in the Catholic Church in the twenty-first century.
In 1904, physician William Henry Walling published Sexology, a family medicine reference book. In his book, Walling proposed that his guidance would help people who were married or single and young or old, as well as anyone who wanted to conform to, what he claims are, gender expectations. Sexology discusses issues such as masturbation, abortion, pregnancy, labor, and marriage. Despite Walling’s limited scientific explanations and evidence for his medical claims, the Puritan Publishing Company printed and distributed the book, which received many positive reviews and endorsements from other physicians, college presidents, politicians, and religious leaders. However, in the twenty-first century, people may consider many of Walling’s claims to be sexist and oppressive toward women. Sexology provides readers with examples of historical medical misconceptions of male and female anatomy and provides context for the logic of reproductive medicine at the turn of the twentieth century.
Mary Coffin Ware Dennett advocated for social reform in the United States in the early twentieth century, particularly regarding sex education and women's rights to access contraception. Dennett authored several publications on sex education and birth control laws. She also worked to repeal the Comstock Act, a federal law that made it illegal to distribute obscene materials through the US Postal Services. During the early 1900s, Dennett distributed a pamphlet she wrote on sex education called, The Sex Side of Life, through the post, which triggered a series of legal challenges that contributed to the dismantling of the Comstock Act. Dennett was an advocate for sex education and contraceptives, and her actions helped increase women's access to information about reproductive health.
In 2010, the Catholic Church excommunicated Margaret McBride, a nun and ethics board member at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. McBride was excommunicated latae sententiae, or automatically, for approving a therapeutic abortion, which is an abortion that is required to save a pregnant woman’s life. McBride approved an abortion for a woman who was twenty-seven years old, eleven weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and suffered from pulmonary hypertension, a life-threatening condition during pregnancy. Following McBride’s decision, St. Joseph’s lost its affiliation with the Catholic Church, which it had maintained since the late 1800s. Affiliation with the Catholic Church required that the hospital abide by Canon Law, which is the law of the Catholic Church. Under Canon Law, abortion is serious wrongdoing that could result in excommunication, as it did in the case of McBride. McBride’s excommunication illustrated the impact that affiliation of Catholicism with hospitals had on patients’ ability to receive comprehensive reproductive health care.