National Press Club

Women’s health group to blanket Congress with landmark book

October 24, 2012 | By Lorna Aldrich |

Vivian Pinn, former director, Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health.

Vivian Pinn, former director, Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health.

Photo/Image: Patricia Geli

Our Bodies Ourselves, a women’s health organization named for the book, “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” announced an initiative to place a copy of the 40th anniversary edition of the book in every congressional office at a Newsmaker event Oct. 22.

The original book, a seminal study of women’s health and sexual issues that was published in 1971, is one of 88 books included in the 2012 Library of Congress exhibit, “Books that Shaped America.” According to Amazon, more than four million copies of previous editions have been sold.

Debra Silimeo, the Newsmaker committee member who organized the event, noted that although the book has been translated into 30 languages, it has been banned from some libraries and schools.

Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves and a co-author of the book, said at the Newsmaker that 350 experts had assisted with the book, which provides many links to further information. The book also notes areas where there is controversy, she said.

Panelists from six organizations working on women’s health issues spoke on a variety of women’s health issues, each underlining the importance of “evidence based” information for policy formation.

The reason for placing a copy of the book in every congressional office, said Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, is to enable staff aides to senators and representatives to say to constituents, “My boss’s policy views may differ but at least I’ll be able to make sure he or she has the facts,”

Diane Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, said, “The important thing to understand is the number of pieces of legislation that affect women’s health in ways large and small.”

She cited the example of meningitis cases resulting from an error made in a compounding pharmacy. “Our Bodies, Ourselves”specifically warns that such pharmacies are not adequately regulated.

Norsigian and Vivian Pinn, former director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health, emphasized that women’s health issues are a bipartisan issue and that progress has been made on a bipartisan basis in the past.

“Let’s get the science and then let’s base policy on the science,” said Pinn, adding that improvement in women’s health also betters community health and family health.

Pinn cited the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study of the effect of hormone replacement treatment on postmenopausal women, as an example of a bipartisan effort that yielded important information. She said the study was ended early when it was showing that treatments were actually increasing the risk of strokes and heart disease.

Erin Thornton of Every Mother Counts, an organization concerned with maternal health and mortality globally, said that saving a mother’s life in childbirth in underdeveloped countries reduces the number of orphans and increases schooling for children.

She lamented the U.S. ranking of 50th in the world for maternal deaths in childbirth.

She noted that Scandinavian countries with universal care and options for the kind of care rank first.

Thornton said that in many countries access to care is the most critical issue, either because of distance or cost. In the U.S. a barrier to access is lack of health insurance, she said.

Marion McCartney, a certified nurse midwife, said that the main thing individuals can do to improve health care is to demand to see their medical charts. At her center, she said, a patient fills out the chart on the first visit and is able to examine it on each visit.

Norsigian mentioned that young women have told her they received copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” from their boyfriends, who received it from their mothers. Young men have told her they wish a similar book could be published for men, she said.

The initiative aims to raise the required $25,000 and distribute the books by 60 days from the Oct.19 kick-off of the campaign at the group’s Boston base.