Silent Sentinels Past and Present

via Maddow Blog.  Here are photos of demonstrators outside the Virginia state capitol earlier this week. They are protesting a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to first undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound.

According to their Facebook page:

The Capitol ground rules say that we cannot assemble, hold signs, chant, yell or protest. We think silence in the face of this struggle and their unconstitutional rules presents the strongest response to their assault on women. Please come out and stand up for our rights and for the rights of all women in VA to choose the best reproductive route for themselves. These people are used to signs, yelling, chanting etc. It is not new. They are not used to silently being stared at and having to look us in the eye. It gives us the power.

I’m about to do my annual screening of the HBO film “Iron-Jawed Angels” that describes the actions of the “silent sentinels” by the radical women’s suffrage organization the National Women’s Party:


#Komen sucks, support @BCAction

Posted by Lorraine Tipton on Susan G. #Komen Facebook page:

via Huffington Post

As you all saw in my Twitter feed, I’m mighty upset with the Komen Foundation for their decision to no longer provide funding to Planned Parenthood for preventive cancer exams for low income women.

I’ve been a Komen “grumbler” for years but usually bite my tongue and shell out money when folks ask me to contribute “for the cure.”   My gripes include Komen’s support companies that “pinkwash” — i.e. sell products that have been linked to breast and other cancers and save face by selling pink stuff.  They spend a lot of the money they raise on administrative costs (e.g. the VP who pulled the plug on Planned Parenthood funding makes a six-figure salary), and there are doubts about whether the organization “raising awareness” really does anything to improve the survival rate of women with breast cancer.

So, if you really want to support an organization that truly cares about women’s health and is far more effective in fighting the breast cancer epidemic, then give your money to Breast Cancer Action (and Planned Parenthood because they need it.)

Blog for Choice Day 2012

via NARAL Pro-Choice America

Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade  and the seventh annual Blog for Choice day. This year we’re being asked to give our thoughts on the following question: What will you do to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012?

One of the main things I plan to do is to try to overcome my students’ complacency on this issue. The talk I just gave at the Dittrick Museum was very well-received and there were a lot of students in the audience (there is an active Planned Parenthood campus affiliate at Case Western). I reminded them that the ground is shifting beneath them and anti-choice groups are chipping away at reproductive rights by going after the most vulnerable groups (e.g. adolescents, the poor, i.e. folks who don’t or can’t vote). I plan to do the same with my students this semester.

I was relieved that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, along with President Obama, finally showed some back bone and required insurance companies to cover contraception without mandating co-pays, just like any other preventive service. Of course, this has angered Catholic leaders, and Fox News, among others.  They haven’t quite redeemed themselves in my book, but they certainly are better than any of the Republican candidates.

Related note — I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while in Cleveland.  The Women Who Rock exhibit wound up being rather one-dimensional, i.e. lame, (does every exhibit about women have to be pink?!)  Still it was worth it to see Joan Jett’s black leather jacket with all the pro-choice and anti-rape buttons on it (where can I find one that says “Pro Fucking Choice”).  So, I guess another thing I’ll do to help pro-choice candidates get elected, I’ll ask myself whenever I see some anti-choice b.s. come my way, What Would Joan Jett do?

Thought Science Would Trump Politics under President Obama? Think Again.

via Reproductive Health Technologies Project, which just sent around the following disappointing news:

“Statement from FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. on Plan B One-Step

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been carefully evaluating for over a decade whether emergency contraceptives containing levonorgestrel, such as Plan B One-Step, are safe and effective for nonprescription use to reduce the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse.

Plan B One-Step is a single-dose pill (1.5 mg levonorgestrel tablet) which is effective in decreasing the chance of pregnancy if taken within 3 days after unprotected sexual intercourse.  The product contains higher levels of a hormone found in some types of daily use oral hormonal contraceptive pills and works in a similar way to birth control pills.

Plan B One-Step was originally approved in July 2009 for use without a prescription for females age 17 and older and as a prescription-only option for females younger than age 17.  In February 2011, Teva Women’s Health Inc. submitted a supplemental application seeking to remove the prescription-only status for females younger than age 17 and to make Plan B One-Step nonprescription for all females of child-bearing potential.

The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) completed its review of the Plan B One-Step application and laid out its scientific determination. CDER carefully considered whether younger females were able to understand how to use Plan B One-Step.  Based on the information submitted to the agency, CDER determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the data supported a finding that adolescent females could use Plan B One-Step properly without the intervention of a healthcare provider.

It is our responsibility at FDA to approve drugs that are safe and effective for their intended use based on the scientific evidence.  The review process used by CDER to analyze the data applied a risk/benefit assessment consistent with its standard drug review process.  Our decision-making reflects a body of scientific findings, input from external scientific advisory committees, and data contained in the application that included studies designed specifically to address the regulatory standards for nonprescription drugs.  CDER experts, including obstetrician/gynecologists and pediatricians, reviewed the totality of the data and agreed that it met the regulatory standard for a nonprescription drug and that Plan B One-Step should be approved for all females of child-bearing potential.

I reviewed and thoughtfully considered the data, clinical information, and analysis provided by CDER, and I agree with the Center that there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential.

However, this morning I received a memorandum from the Secretary of Health and Human Services invoking her authority under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to execute its provisions and stating that she does not agree with the Agency’s decision to allow the marketing of Plan B One-Step nonprescription for all females of child-bearing potential.   Because of her disagreement with FDA’s determination, the Secretary has directed me to issue a complete response letter, which means that the supplement for nonprescription use in females under the age of 17 is not approved.  Following Secretary Sebelius’s direction, FDA sent the complete response letter to Teva today.  Plan B One-Step will remain on the market and will remain available for all ages, but a prescription will continue to be required for females under the age of 17.”

Kirsten Moore, President and CEO of RHTP, told Ms. Magazine:  “We are outraged that this Administration has let politics trump science. There is no rationale for this move. This is unprecedented as evidenced by the Commissioner’s own letter. Unbelievable.” In the same story, Dr. Susan Wood, who resigned from the FDA over the Bush Administration’s decision to Plan B and is currently the former FDA Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health and associate professor of Health Policy and Director of the Jacobs Institute at the GW School of Public Health and Health Services, issued the following statement: “This decision is stunning. I had come to believe that the FDA would be allowed to make decisions based on science and the public’s health. Sadly, once again, FDA has been over-ruled and not allowed to do its job. I cannot understand why Secretary Sebelius would reach in and overturn the FDA’s decision to allow timely access for all those who need safe and effective emergency contraception.”

In her letter to FDA Commissioner, Secretary Sibelius said that there were “significant cognitive differences” between older adolescents and younger ones So, if Teva’s application were approved, then the drug would be available without prescription or other point of sale restrictions for even the youngest girls of reproductive age (the average age of menarche in the U.S. is 11.1 years). Never mind that only 1% of all 11 year old’s have been sexually active (and for those, “sexually active” usually means rape or incest).

According to what I’ve read and heard from others in the EC world, this is an unprecedented move by an HHS secretary — i.e. none of her predecessors has ever overruled the FDA on a drug application.   (during the George W. Bush administration, the problem was the FDA Commissioner).  Is Secretary Sibelius acting on her own, or is she fronting for someone else? We’ll see.

Update:  If you want to take action on this issue, please sign the petitions at


In addition, here is a statement from Catholics for Choice:

For Immediate Release
December 7, 2011
Media Contact: Adrianne Burke
+1 202 986 6093

Obama Administration Rejects Scientific Evidence and FDA Advice in Maintaining Restrictions on Emergency Contraception

Continues Barriers for Women Seeking to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy


In a stunning setback for women’s access to healthcare services, President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has ignored the advice of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ease the restrictions on the sales of Plan B, a method of emergency, or after-sex, contraception. In a rare sign of public dissent within the administration, the FDA commissioner, Margaret Hamburg MD, wrote, “I reviewed and thoughtfully considered the data, clinical information, and analysis provided by CDER, and I agree with the Center that there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential.” The HHS decision to override this recommendation means that the proposal to remove the pills from over-the-counter status, and permit pharmacies to place them on shelves like other safe and effective oral medications, cannot now take place.


The president of Catholics for Choice, Jon O’Brien, said, “We know that conservative pharmacists around the country have treated women condescendingly, expressed contempt and even denied them access to a safe and legal contraceptive for no medical reason. Now, the HHS has overruled the scientifically and medically sound advice from the FDA that it was perfectly OK to move these pills to OTC status for all women. This is a deeply disappointing decision from an administration that promised us it would follow science and sound medical information in making policy decisions. Increasingly, on issues that women care deeply about, the Obama administration seems intent on taking us back to the future.”

Thoughts on Bachmann’s “Viral Politics”

via Student Activism(among many others).  At Tuesday night’s CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate, Michelle Bachmann chastized Texas governor Rick Perry  for his 2007 support of a mandatory state program vaccinating girls against Human Papilloma Virus — a sexually-transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer.  during the debate, Bachmann called the vaccine  a “government injection,” and Perry’s decision as “a violation of a liberty interest.” She also suggested that Perry’s support of mandatory vaccination was payback for Merck’s support of his campaign (Perry’s former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Merck). After the debate, Bachmann went even further:

“When you have innocent little 12-year-old girls,” she said, “that are being forced to have a government injection into their body — this is a liberty interest that violates the most deepest personal part of a little child. … A little girl doesn’t get a do over — once they have that vaccination in their body, once it causes its damage, that little girl doesn’t have a chance to go back.”

Student Activism says he was “gobsmacked by the language itself — the use of such heavily loaded molestation imagery to describe a non-invasive, voluntary medical procedure.”

I wasn’t going to get mixed up in this but because I contributed to the volume picture at left, and I’ve been getting links to articles about this asking for my thoughts, I’ve decided to weigh in after all.

I agree that Bachmann’s rhetoric is outrageous (especially since she shows little  concern for women who have been sexually assaulted, or those who need basic reproductive health care like pelvic exams or cervical cancer treatment).

Even the conservative paper  Wall Street Journal has condemned Bachmann’s “viral politics” and demagoguery, calling this “the kind of know-nothingism that undermines public support for vaccination altogether and leads to such public health milestones as California reporting in 2010 the highest number of whooping cough cases in 55 years.”

Wow, it’s not often I agree with the WSJ!  It’s also not often that the WSJ critiques a Republican candidate — obviously Backmann is beyond the pale (and I bet Perry’s ties to Big Pharma is a plus for the pro-business publication).

At the same time, I’m going to plug my and my colleagues’ work in Three Shots of Prevention and suggest critics get it and learn about the multiple moral, ethical, and scientific questions regarding HPV vaccines.

Update:  I’m addressing Dr. Pete’s comments here rather than in the comments section.  First, I and others who work on adolescent health issues acknowledge that there is a qualitative difference between young children and teenagers.  One of the keys to successful adolescent health care is involving teenagers in the process (and as they age, asking Mom and Dad to step out of the room). In other words, girls (and boys) who are being offered the HPV vaccine should be part of the conversation about whether or not to receive it.  So individual liberty includes teenagers too, not just parents. The imagery used by Bachmann in her remarks does not acknowledge the developmental differences between teenagers and younger children.




Reminder to Certain Feminists: Teenagers have rights to choice and bodily autonomy too

via Historiann, who discusses Mary Elizabeth Williams’ Twitter battle with Katha Pollitt and Amanda Marcotte over her Salon article about her daughter getting the wrong vaccineat her annual checkup. Williams knew she would get flak for the article, but she “wrote it anyway, because I felt strongly about two key issues of the story. If you’re going in for any procedure, drug or vaccination, take a moment to double-check that the person administering it is giving you what you’re there for. Also, I believe my daughters should have final say in whether or not they receive the HPV vaccine. And flak, indeed, I got.”

As  an expert on the history of adolescent medicine and contributed to an edited collection on the politics of HPV vaccines, I have to say “right on.”

Certain feminists in the twiterverse disagreed, though:  “Amanda Marcotte took some mighty big umbrage on Twitter,”  calling Williams’ piece an “‘overreaction’ and then proceeded to engage in something that looks remarkably like overreacting.

“A single tear shed over this causes everyone else to wonder if you don’t have real problems,” she wrote. “I’m honestly not invested in freaking out on an innocent mistake that resulted in no real problems… I mean, I have real shit to deal with in my life… If that’s the most awful thing you’ve learned at 11, you live in a big time bubble…. I’m sure her mother’s reaction to it had nothing to do with the little girl thinking this was the worst thing ever.”

Author Katha Pollitt also jumped into the fray, calling the story “ridiculous.” Not the review I’d wish for, but all right. But I’d like to correct her assessment that “I just felt this woman was hyperfreakout helicopter parent, infecting her kids with anxiety.”

Unlike Historiann, I’m a twitterstorian who tweets regularly (see my feed to the right) although I must confess I find it impossible to keep up with all the people I follow and use an automatic aggregating program to compile all these posts into the Knitting Clio daily ( does this automatically — I don’t stay up late at night putting the daily together!)  I went to Twitter to look at the exchange between Williams and her critics (and fans).  I especially liked Angus Johnston’s comment:  “I think it’s utterly reasonable for a parent to want to choose when and how she discusses the HPV vaccine with her daughter.”

I made the following comment at Historiann’s blog;  “Wow, this woman dares to treat her adolescent daughter as a developing adult (i.e. follows the recommendation of experts in adolescent medicine). Kudos to her. Interesting that feminists like Marcotte and Pollitt are all for choice and bodily autonomy, unless the body in question belongs to a teenager.”

Now looking forward to my own Twitter battle!

Birth Control Blog Carnival: “We’ve Got You Covered”

via National Women’s Law Center, who has teamed up with Planned Parenthood and bloggers such as yours truly to discuss the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services that “women’s health preventive services should be included in all new health care plans.” These preventive services include “contraception, yearly well-woman visits, support for breast feeding, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, and screening and counseling for domestic violence, among others that health insurers should be requires to cover at no cost to the woman.”  If these recommendations are approved by HHS (and it’s pretty certain that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will do so) then insurance companies must cover prescription birth control without charging co-pays.

Now, I agree with other bloggers that this is a great news.  Having coverage for prescription drugs in general is a good thing, and not having to pay anything at all for prescription birth control is even better.  At the risk of sounding like a party poop, though, I’d just like to draw on my most recent work is on the history of emergency contraception (the book will be out with Rutgers in October) to make an important point about affordability and access.  As many of you know, certain brands of EC are now available over-the-counter (OTC). However,  OTC products are not covered by health insurance.  So, a switch to OTC status increases access by removing the restriction of the prescription, but can decrease access by raising the cost.  Maybe this won’t be that problematic: if women can afford regular birth control, they will have less need for a “back-up” method.  According to Elizabeth Westley from the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception, “While it is not clear exactly how over-the-counter methods such as levonorgestrel-alone brands of EC (Plan B One-Step and Next Choice) would be covered, EC is clearly a part of the report’s recommendations.”

Also,  there are efforts to make regular oral contraceptives available without prescription (I have an article about this in a forthcoming book Prescribed: Writing, Filling, Using, and Abusing the Prescription in Modern America, edited by Elizabeth Watkins and Jeremy Greene, that will be coming out with Johns Hopkins University Press in the fall).  Therefore, the issue of how to help women pay for non-prescription contraception needs to be addressed too.

Celebrating the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut

via Ms Magazine blog. On June 7, 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the decision, Griswold v. Connecticut [PDF] which struck down an 1879 state law “that prohibited the use of contraceptives and made it illegal to assist, abet or counsel someone about contraceptives. Griswold established a constitutional right to marital privacy that, in the words of Justice William O. Douglas, would no longer allow ‘the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives.'”

At left is a photo from Corbis.  The image is from an awards ceremony on October 19, 1965.  

Original caption: Dr. C. Lee Buxton (Left) and Mrs. Estelle T. Griswold are shown with planned Parenthood awards they received on October 19, at the annual dinner of Planned Parenthood at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel here. Along with the gold statuettes each gets a scroll and they share the 2,500 Albert Lasker Award of Planned Parenthood-World population.
Now, I’ve always wondered why Dr. Buxton seldom if ever gets mentioned in the commemoration of this event.  I reckon it’s because he was a male doctor, and that just doesn’t fit with the over-simplified narrative of the women’s health movement of women combatting the “evil,” mostly male medical profession.
I don’t want to overdo it and give Buxton too much credit — but what I’ve heard from the residents who worked under him at Yale-New Haven Hospital  is admiration for his willingness to put his reputation and career on the line to fight the state’s restrictions on contraception.  This acknowledgement came even from Virginia Stuermer,  who said that while Buxton was very progressive on issues of birth control and abortion, he was not”so hospitably disposed toward young women who wished to become resident physicians in our department. At a time when the government was scrutinizing the hiring practices of universities which received federal grants(vis-a-vis women and minority groups),our chairman still felt he could ask women residency candidates if they would forego childbearing for the duration of the four-year program. Needless to say,fewwomen became residents during that chairman’s tenure.Today, a preponderance of residents in our department is female. This fact has certainly brought a sea of change in the attitudes of physicians in my field in this community.”  Nevertheless, Stuermer acknowledged that Buxton’s work along with Griswold’s, was “paramount” in the struggle against Connecticut laws banning birth control.  Buxton also was willing to enlist Stuermer and another junior faculty member as clinicians at the New Haven Planned Parenthood clinic.  After the Griswold decision was handed down, Stuermer replaced Buxton as medical director at Planned Parenthood, and abortion became the “next battleground” in the Nutmeg state’s history of reproductive rights.  At the forefront of these efforts were female physicians and law students at Yale.
This “sea change” among women professionals in medicine and the law deserves more attention,.  For a start, see  the essays by Sandra Morgen and Naomi Rogers in Women Physicians and the Cultures of Medicine, edited by Ellen S. More, Elizabeth Fee, and Manon Perry (Johns Hopkins, 2009).

Two Invitations from Judy Norsigian of Our Bodies Ourselves

Yesterday I got an exciting email from Judy Norsigian, asking me if I’d finished my book on the history of emergency contraception (yes!) and even more thrilling, whether I’d like to guest blog on the history of EC for Our Bodies, Our Blog.  My reply was — you betcha!  (Okay, that’s not exactly what I said but that’s what I meant).  So, here I have an opportunity to plug my work to a larger audience than the dozen or so folks who read Knitting Clio.

The second invitation was to a 40th anniversary celebration of Our Bodies, Ourselves that will be held in Cambridge on October 1st.  Unfortunately I have a prior commitment that day but said I’d spread the word about it.  So, for more information, go here.

Think Before you Knit-a-Boob for Breast Cancer Awareness

via Bust Magazine blog, which announces that on May 6th, Oak Knit Studio (OKS), “a learning and making space devoted to textile arts in Brooklyn, NY, announces the first-ever “Knit-a-Boob” special event in partnership with Knitters of all levels from novice to expert will gather on Friday, May 6th, to knit actual, wearable prosthetic breasts for patients and survivors of breast cancer, who have lost their breasts to the disease., the world’s leading online resource for breast health and breast cancer information, will lead live information sessions throughout the day, briefing participants on the latest in breast cancer treatment and prevention.  The organization will also be accepting the knitted prostheses, and will distribute the handcrafted boobs to those in need.”  The pattern for the boobs “was inspired by Beryl Tsang, a knitter who developed the pattern for herself while undergoing her own treatment. Beryl found her knitted prosthesis to be a much more comforting, and light-hearted alternative to other prostheses that she was offered, and it later inspired her to start the website, which offers custom knitted breasts.”

When I first saw the link to this on the Ms. Magazine blog I was all over it — I’m a knitter, I like nice yarn, I’m a feminist, I have boobs, what’s not to like?  If I hadn’t already planned to go up to Vermont to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day I’d be tempted to go (except that I also have piles of papers to grade — I hate it when work gets in the way of my hobbies!)

I still think this a worthwhile event since the boobs will be donated to survivors, but let’s reflect on what kind of “awareness” is being raised.  In a guest post at Breast Cancer Action‘s campaign  Think Before You Pink™, Anna Rachnel describes “The Dark Side of Pink Awareness”:

The color pink and the pink ribbon have become the ubiquitous and saleable trademarks of breast cancer awareness and the associated pink fundraising machine.

Through canny marketing, cutesy slogans, pink imagery, and campaign after campaign, we hear the pink awareness messages loud and clear.

Early detection saves lives.

Education saves lives.

Pink ribbons save lives.


But what is breast cancer awareness?

According to Wikipedia, breast cancer awareness is defined as

“an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer and reduce the disease’s stigma by educating people about its symptoms and treatment options. Supporters hope that greater knowledge will lead to earlier detection of breast cancer, which is associated with higher long-term survival rates, and that money raised for breast cancer will produce a reliable, permanent cure.”

Rachnel asks, “Is this the definition of breast cancer awareness the public learns about through pink ribbon awareness campaigns? ” Her reply is a resounding “no”:

Women and men with Stage IV breast cancer are not the happy-happy-joy-joy-Sheroic survivor stories portrayed in the popular pink culture.  As a community we continue to fight; not only for our lives, but for official recognition by a mainstream breast cancer movement caught in a dangerous rut of pink unawareness. We are tired of our deaths being used by marketers to sell emotionally charged displays of pink, designed to generate both fundraising dollars and profits. Fundraising that the metastatic breast cancer community continues NOT to benefit from.

Breast Cancer AWARENESS? I think not.”

She points out that “this nation’s largest breast cancer fundraising organization, which was largely responsible for the instigation and rise of the pink awareness machine, contributed less than 19% of its total resources to actual breast cancer research in 2010.”

I don’t know much about but if you click on their corporate sponsors link, you will find a long list of drug companies and shopping sites where you can buy pink stuff.   How much of the profits raised from pink consumption do these companies donate to breast cancer research?  Can a website so heavily supported by drug company marketing be considered a neutral source of information?  These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of prayer and comfort shawls I need to finish.