Educating Congress, one book at a time

SAXTONS RIVER — When Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican who sought Claire McCaskill's Senate seat, declared that “if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” the women of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, now known as Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS) after their acclaimed and widely respected book of that name, let out a collective gasp.

Then they took to the road.

Delivering their iconic book to Akin as well as McCaskill during what they dubbed the “Missouri Sex-Ed Road Trip,” the women quickly realized that Akin wasn't the first or only member of Congress who had his facts wrong, and he probably wouldn't be the last.

So they took up readers' suggestion that everyone involved in writing federal laws that affect women should have a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Thus began a campaign aimed at educating Congress and informing policymakers on maternal health, preventive care, and access to contraception, abortion, and a full range of reproductive health services.

“It would also serve as a resource on violence against women and a host of other issues that come up before Congress,” organizers said.

At an October National Press Club Newsmaker event in Washington, D.C. to launch the Educate Congress campaign, Judy Norsigian, founder and executive director of OBOS, said, “We hope to advance evidence-based reproductive health policy-making in this country” by giving copies of the book to all 435 members of the House of Representatives and all 100 senators before the end of the year.

To that end, OBOS is well on its way to raising $25,000 to cover the costs of distributing the paperback book, which sells for the bargain price of $26 a copy.

Originally published as a newsprint edition in 1971, Our Bodies, Ourselves proved to be a pioneering, woman-centered study of women's health and sexual issues.

Today, its 40th anniversary edition, weighing in at 848 pages, shares the work of more than 350 experts and readers who worked collaboratively for more than two years to complete it.

The book, which has sold over four million copies since its initial publication, has been translated into 30 languages and is recognized internationally as the go-to authority on women's health and wellness. This year, the Library of Congress included it in an exhibit of 88 books that “shaped America.”

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In response to Akin's comment about “legitimate rape” and Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh's claim that because of “modern technology and science, you can't find one instance” where an abortion was required to save the life of a mother, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (ACOG) issued two statements correcting the legislators' false information about pregnancy and abortion.

According to ACOG, “many more women would die each year if they did not have access to abortion to protect their health or to save their lives.”

Akin, Walsh, and their uninformed, right-wing friends seem not to have heard of conditions such as pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure), nor are they aware that the U.S. ranks 50th in the world for maternal deaths in childbirth.

They're not the only ones who need educating, it appears.

A medical student in Chicago reportedly told a professor that condoms aggravate the spread of HIV-AIDS. As Judy Norsigian says, “This country has a long way to go” when it comes to reproductive health education.

Norsigian, citing the clear need to provide Congress with accurate, evidence-based information, especially in the face of dangerous and uninformed comments being spewed about women's bodies, said more politicians and their aides need to have a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves readily available.

This is especially important because the new edition focuses on topics that are sometimes misrepresented or misunderstood, such as pregnancy and childbirth, birth control and abortion, and sexual health.

The bottom line is this, according to OBOS and other women's health advocates: Congress can save women's lives by advancing evidence-based reproductive health policy that, among other things, preserves access to and coverage of reproductive health care; improves maternity care and reduces maternal mortality; uses accurate language to describe rape; and ends restrictions on women's access to safe abortion.

Not so long ago, none of those markers seemed excessively demanding or difficult to achieve. Now they are under assault in unprecedented and frightening ways.

Thankfully, OBOS is there to help educate those most in need of solid, factual information and to continue advocating in Congress and elsewhere on behalf of all women.

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