The campaign responds to more than a year of legislation by states and threats by members of Congress aimed at imposing severe restrictions on contraception and access to services during pregnancy. OBOS is distributing "Our Bodies, Our Votes" bumper stickers to encourage women and men to express their frustration and even anger with lawmakers who are eager to turn back the clock on women's access to safe and legal health care.
"In a growing number of states across the country, women and girls must now submit to humiliating, demeaning procedures just so they can access basic healthcare," said Judy Norsigian, executive director of OBOS, the global women's health and human rights organization that began more than 40 years ago with the publication of its first book on women's health. A newly revised edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves was published in 2011.
"We are providing a forum for millions of people to join with us to send a strong message of support across the nation and the world," said Norsigian. "Our goal is for thousands of these stickers to be displayed on bumpers in all 50 states."
In 2011 alone, U.S. lawmakers enacted 92 abortion-restricting provisions in bills designed to curtail women’s rights to health services, often by imposing unprecedented intrusions on the relationship between doctor and patient. According to the Guttmacher Institute, that number shattered the previous single-year record of 34 such provisions enacted in 2005. Such laws make it more difficult, and painful, for women to exercise their legal right to terminate their pregnancies.
Many of the new laws related to reproductive health impose new requirements on physicians, compromising their ability to use their best judgment to provide medical care that meets the standards of science as well as widely endorsed human rights.
"These laws that deny millions of women access to reproductive health care defy science and the research that supports evidence-based medicine," said Timothy R.B. Johnson, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan.
Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, told OBOS: “Requiring doctors to perform procedures that are not medically indicated, or to provide false information about medical evidence, violates women's rights and leaves doctors with an untenable dilemma: Violate state law, or betray their professional obligations to patients.”
OBOS supports the recent statement by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in The New York Times protesting against these intrusive new laws: "Politicians were not elected to, nor should they, legislate the practice of medicine or dictate the parameters of the doctor-patient relationship [...] Our message to politicians is unequivocal: Get out of our exam rooms."
Legislative actions at the state and federal level that interfere with women's health care include:
• Mandating invasive procedures for women considering terminating their pregnancy. In the most extreme example so far, physicians in Texas must now perform a vaginal probe ultrasound, regardless of medical need. They must position the fetal monitor to face the woman, describe the fetus in detail, and then make the patient wait 24 hours before performing an abortion.
• Mandating counseling that includes inaccurate or misleading information. Five recent state laws assert, inaccurately, that there is a link between having an abortion and a subsequent increased risk of breast cancer. Eight out of 20 states that include information on possible psychological responses to abortion describe only negative emotional reactions. More than two dozen states now require women to wait a specified amount of time—most often 24 hours—between counseling and an abortion procedure, often forcing women to make two separate trips to the clinic.
• Permitting doctors to withhold vital medical information—including the health status of a fetus—from pregnant women and their partners if that doctor suspects a woman may choose to terminate her pregnancy. Several states have even proposed "wrongful birth" laws that would remove any legal recourse parents have when doctors fail to warn them about possible genetic problems of a fetus.
• "Personhood" amendments that aim to give full legal rights to a fertilized egg, effectively making illegal most forms of hormonal contraception, including the birth control pill, as well as raising barriers to terminating pregnancy. Despite being repeatedly voted down in several states and declared unconstitutional in others, these measures will likely appear on state ballots in the 2012 election cycle.
• Allowing employers to deny insurance coverage for care they disagree with, including birth control prescribed by a woman's doctor. Seven states filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to justify that employers' religious convictions, or ownership of health facilities, give them the "right" to deny birth control coverage to their employees.
Supporters Invited to "Stick It, Click It & Share It"
Our Bodies Ourselves has created a Tumblr site, OurBodiesOurVotes.tumblr.com, where supporters can upload photos of the various places they have posted "Our Bodies, Our Votes" stickers. While the organizers expect many photographs of car bumpers, a number of women have already submitted unconventional entries.
To learn more, visit OurBodiesOurVotes.com.