Feminist Psychologists Advocate
for Women’s Reproductive Health and Rights

By Lisa R. Rubin, PhD, Chair, Reproductive Issues Committee

The past year has been marked by an unprecedented battle over women’s reproductive health and reproductive rights. Just as we seemed to be taking a big step forward in relation to women’s reproductive health, by ensuring access to contraceptive methods for women regardless of their financial situation, the public discourse around reproductive rights has taken two steps back. In July, 2011, the Institute of Medicine, which was charged with developing comprehensive guidelines for preventive services, recommended that contraceptive methods be included among other preventive health services that health plans will cover at no cost to patients. A review of the science made clear that access to contraception was critical to the health and well-being of women and children. As noted in their report:

“To reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies, which accounted for almost half of pregnancies in the U.S. in 2001, the report urges that HHS consider adding the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods as well as patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity. Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to receive delayed or no prenatal care and to smoke, consume alcohol, be depressed, and experience domestic violence during pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy also increases the risk of babies being born preterm or at a low birth weight, both of which raise their chances of health and developmental problems.

Access to contraception is consistent with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of reproductive justice, defined as “the basic rights of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and have the information and means to do so” (International Conference on Population and Development [ICPD] Programme of Action-Principles, Principle 8, 1994).

Yet in recent weeks, the conversation has been distorted. Those who advocate for women’s reproductive health and reproductive rights have been branded with labels such as “slut” and “prostitute,” in a strategy to silence women and exclude their involvement in discussions of their own health and well-being. This is but one example of a long list of assaults on women’s health in the past year. In the past year, other examples have included:

  • State and federal legislation (PDF, 214KB) proposed to eliminate funding for programs (e.g., Title X funding) providing women with contraception, cancer screenings, HIV testing, and more.
  • State legislation (PDF, 183KB) proposed that mandates ultrasounds coupled with required waiting periods prior to abortion. Some legislation has mandated ultrasound of a certain visual quality that, in many circumstances, would involve vaginal penetration, violating women’s bodily integrity, her privacy, and her autonomy.
  • State legislation that protect doctors who intentionally withhold critical health information from pregnant women to prevent abortions.

Feminist Psychologists Are Connecting Our Voices With Science to Respond to These Attacks

Challenging Pseudoscience

Julia Steinberg (UCSF) and Lawrence Finer as Guttmacher institute uncovered "'fundamental analytical errors' in a study linking abortion and mental health problems that render its conclusions invalid...This conclusion has been confirmed by the editor of the journal in which the study appeared. Most egregiously, the study, by Priscilla Coleman and colleagues, did not distinguish between mental health outcomes that occurred before abortions and those that occurred afterward, but still claimed to show a causal link between abortion and mental disorders."

Making our Voices Heard
Highlighting Reproductive Justice around the World

Joan Chrisler published her edited volume, “Reproductive Justice: A Global Concern”