A Reading Guide To Women's Healthcare In America

by E. Ce Miller

There are few things that make (certain) folks in Washington more excited than talking about “defunding Planned Parenthood” — a proposed move rooted in extremist political posturing and the patriarchy’s unrelenting obsession with legislating the vagina, and one that has (by the way) practically nothing to do with actual federal funding itself. Because newsflash: in case you don’t already know, the U.S. government doesn’t fund Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood isn’t part of the budget, and direct government funding is not what keeps Planned Parenthood’s doors open. Instead, the government funds Medicaid, a healthcare program which supports low-income families — and a program that,according to PP itself, at least 60% of Planned Parenthood patients depend on.

So what this Republican-led Congress is really proposing is blocking Medicaid participants from accessing healthcare at Planned Parenthood locations (and note: abortion services have never been included in the list of those that are covered by Medicaid). When Mike Pence achieved this “defunding” in Indiana, all that led to was a 2015 HIV epidemic that is now a public health emergency. So, good going there. Furthermore, according to Congress itself, in a 2015 Congressional Budget Office analysis, blocking Planned Parenthood will likely cost the federal government more — because when women can’t access birth control, they have babies, and these babies will then be covered by Medicaid.

So now that we’re all on the same page about that, let’s talk about what you can do to better understand not only your own reproductive healthcare needs, but the unique reproductive healthcare needs of the women around you too. (These books about women’s reproductive healthcare are a great place to start.) Because women’s bodies — and the care they need — are far more complicated than budgeting bottom lines and political agendas put forth by the still predominately white, predominately male, predominately Christian folks in Washington.

For many women, Planned Parenthood has been their only affordable option for reproductive healthcare: allowing them access to birth control; STD testing, treatment, and prevention; cancer screenings; educational resources for both themselves and their partners; and yes, abortions — a legal right that seriously shouldn’t even have to be qualified by the statistic that only three percent of yearly Planned Parenthood services include abortion, but that I’ll qualify nonetheless. Here are nine books about women's healthcare rights that will take you beyond the headlines and make you think more deeply about the issues.


‘Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America’ by Rickie Solinger

Historian Rickie Solinger is known for her no-holds-barred writing on the politics of women’s bodies in the United States. One of her many titles, Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America dives into the social, racial, economic, and political factors that have shaped women’s reproductive lives. She explores and challenges commonly held beliefs about reproductive freedom, and illuminates the diverse experiences of child-bearing (or not) women — experiences that are informed by everything from race, income, and religion, to access to sex education and contraception.

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‘Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America’ by Andrea Tone

Women’s access to birth control in the United States has a long and complicated history — and the evolution of contraceptive technology has been almost as complex. From changing attitudes and advancements in devices, to what the invention of the birth control pill really meant for women all over the United States and the world, Andrea Tone’s Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America is filled with everything you ever wanted to know about how modern birth control came to be — and will remind you how important it is that we don’t take steps back in history.

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‘The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World’ by Michelle Goldberg

If you’ve ever wondered why women’s rights, and specifically women’s reproductive rights, are such a fiercely-debated issue in the United States and all over the world, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World is definitely the book to check out. Michelle Goldberg’s reporting demonstrates the ways the emancipation of women impacts economics, culture, religion, and healthcare across the globe — and why sexually empowered women so often have the patriarchy running scared (like you need a book to tell you that, after this election cycle.) Goldberg’s book tackles not only birth control, but also issues like forced prostitution, the enslavement of young women, and female circumcision, in order to offer a global perspective on women’s reproductive rights.

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‘Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America’ by Ellen Chesler

What Susan B. Anthony meant to women’s suffrage in the United States, Margaret Sanger meant to women’s access to birth control — founding the American Birth Control League, which later became the now-challenged Planned Parenthood itself. Ellen Chesler’s biography, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America tells the story of Sanger’s life and work, both as an activist and an expert in women’s reproductive healthcare. Now, with access to Planned Parenthood being threatened, the story of Sanger’s life and work demonstrates more than ever that affordable reproductive healthcare is a human right.

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‘The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service’ by Laura Kaplan

With myriad threats to Roe vs. Wade making the rounds via headlines and Tweets these days, now is a great time to remind ourselves what life was like before the landmark Supreme Court decision. Illegal abortions didn’t mean women got less abortions — it simply meant they got more illegal (and often medically dangerous) ones. Laura Kaplan’s book, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service gathers together a collection of anonymous voices: those of women who joined the secret, Chicago-based, underground abortion service in the years before Roe vs. Wade — code named “Jane."

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‘Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community’ edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth

Something that often gets overlooked when we discuss (and debate) women’s right to affordable healthcare in the United States are the unique healthcare needs of trans women, and the equally-unique difficulties trans women often experience when searching for a knowledgeable and compassionate healthcare provider. In Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community, editor Laura Erickson-Schroth has compiled a collection of essays by transgender or genderqueer authors, each taking readers through an important transgender issue: race, religion, employment, medical and surgical transition, mental health, relationships, sexuality, parenthood, and more.

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‘The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood’ by Belle Boggs

Based on a viral essay published in Orion magazine in 2012, Belle Boggs memoir-through-essay, The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood dissects what it means to parent and procreate in our modern world; especially the myriad paths to getting there. Faced with her own inability to conceive, Boggs catalogs the examples of fertility, infertility, and parenting that seem to exist all around her — not only that of her fellow humans, but also taking note of local baby eagles, 13-year cicadas, and the pregnancy and birthing experiences of other species we share our world with. Boggs’ message is clear: there is no one path to parenthood, and no experience of mothering more valid than another.

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‘Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe V Wade’ by Rickie Solinger

Another title from historian and feminist writer Rickie Solinger, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe V. Wade takes readers into maternity home programs for unwed mothers, particularly those run in the United States from 1945 to 1965, demonstrating the myriad ways race informed the services single mothers were offered and received. Detailing the race-specific public policy initiatives of that time, Solinger explores the fact that white women were most often called to relinquish their babies for adoption, while black women were largely subjected to social welfare policies that assumed they would keep their babies, often later preventing them from social, educational, professional, and economic advancements.

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‘The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction’ by Emily Martin

We all remember Trump’s “blood coming out of her wherever” blunder — and if you’re still not over it this book will send you even deeper down the rabbit hole of the often absurd (and/or offensive) metaphors used to describe women’s bodies and reproductive health. Emily Martin’s The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction explores the different ways that women's reproduction is seen and discussed in American culture and politics, and how these discussions pervade women’s understanding of, and relationships with, their own bodies.

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