Women are having frank conversations about their health, from menstruation to menopause. Is the U.S. ready to listen?
With Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection in Georgia, any lingering conservative hopes for a red wave have been dashed. The 2022 midterms have made clear that abortion rights loom large for voters despite pundits’ misplaced predictions of a singularly inflation-obsessed electorate. In the end, the inflation-fueled red wave, the Internet joked, was more akin to “mid-cycle spotting.”
It isn’t surprising that period humor was the go-to response. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe. v. Wade last summer, the national discourse has been more frank than ever about the bloodiest of bodily functions.
To start, we’ve had to correct politicians’ plain ignorance about menstrual cycles, including comments made by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who initially misstated that S.B.8’s six-week ban on abortion “provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.” (It does not. As commentators reminded the governor, a person is at least four weeks pregnant upon a first missed period, meaning they have two weeks at best to obtain an abortion.)
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, more and more women have felt compelled to go public with myriad aspects of their own reproductive lives.
Miscarriage, for example, while a common occurrence, has long been something endured privately (for better or for worse). But now there’s new urgency to shine light on the experience, and especially to flag the prevalence of abortion as a standard medical intervention for it, as well as for ectopic and unviable pregnancies. Celebrity Chrissy Teigen recently reflected on her 2020 pregnancy loss at 20 weeks: “Let’s just call it what it was: It was an abortion. An abortion to save my life for a baby that had absolutely no chance.”
Even menopause—among the most taboo of women’s health topics—has been subject to public airing. Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared with People magazine her frustration with the lack of systemic support for a normal, inevitable health transition—one that can span the better part of a decade and comes with its own array of debilitating symptoms and challenges.
Perhaps one silver lining of Dobbs has been creating space for women to openly and deliberately trace the arc of their reproductive lives—in public. Back in 2018, a New York Times article entitled “Getting Real About Periods, Childbirth, Menopause and More” underscored the inherent interconnectedness of these milestones and expounded on the myriad ways “women’s health issues and biological processes have long been shrouded in secrecy and shame. Who among us hasn’t hidden our pad or tampon, lest we appear unattractive or messy? The result: We feel alone, often at a young age, when we are anything but.”
Of course, the problem isn’t just that we feel alone. We indeed have been left all alone, our bodies overlooked by the law and undermined by the courts. We’re left to implore doctors to acknowledge our pain and to provide treatment. To suffer economic detriment or discrimination. To endure isolation and emotional upheaval. And even, quite literally, to fight to save our own lives.
The culture of secrecy and shame that surrounds women’s reproductive health begets persistent silence. And, eventually, that silence results in an onslaught of personal harm—a cumulative cascade of inequities that go unaddressed throughout our lives and that amount to a less just, less equal, less humane society. This is the landscape that the Dobbs decision would have us inhabit.
But it doesn’t have to be so. We can, and must, draw links to all reproductive markers in order to address the real—and for too long unspoken—health crises that American women face.
We have been left all alone, our bodies overlooked by the law and undermined by the courts. We’re left, quite literally, to save our own lives.
We’ve been heartened to see leaders in the private sector attempting to fill the breach. Corporate coalitions like Don’t Ban Equality are not only helping companies include abortion access in their employee benefit programs, but contextualizing abortion within a broader array of reproductive care that includes miscarriage management, assisted fertility treatments, prenatal and postpartum support, contraception, menstrual health and menopause.
Although lawmakers have emphasized the need for legislation like the federal Women’s Health Protection Act that would codify abortion rights, our policy goals must be more expansive. Our policymaking must simultaneously prioritize other critical aspects of reproductive health. This means supporting legislation like the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, the Menopause Research Act and the Menstrual Equity For All Act, all of which focus on important—and underserved—aspects of reproductive health. The sum of all of these parts surely would create a stronger whole for women’s lives and well-being.
As advocates, scholars and providers now work to reimagine and rebuild what meaningful reproductive care looks like in this country, we have an opportunity to be more holistic in addressing the full continuum of women’s reproductive lives. Private sector interventions and public policy solutions must reflect those intersections. Period. Full stop.
U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.