Our Bodies Ourselves Shares ‘Common Ground’ With Planned Parenthood

This is the second post in Care2′s new interview series, “What Planned Parenthood Means to Me.

In 1971, a new book called “Our Bodies, Ourselves“ shattered barriers for discussing non-trans women’s health and sexuality.

At the time, abortion was still illegal, and contraception hard to come by. Since then, the book has educated millions about their bodies. In fact, the text has been translated into 30 languages, and later editions feature resources for transgender women.

This week, I speak with Our Bodies Ourselves co-founder Judy Norsigian about how her organization’s history overlaps with Planned Parenthood.

The health care provider may have been around for more than a century before the book was published, but both have been instrumental in advancing women’s rights.

Can you tell me about how Planned Parenthood fits into the mission of Our Bodies, Ourselves?

Well, the organization got started without any particular references to Planned Parenthood. It was really about the lack of information we had about our bodies and knowledge about the health care system.

For example, we were struggling to get access to contraception at that point. We weren’t saying, “Listen, we want access to the method that fits us the best, and your job as a provider is to give us information and options so we can make a decision.” At that point, it wasn’t like you could easily access contraception in any form.

In fact, many of the people who worked at Planned Parenthood were thinking women don’t have enough information. We need to break down some of the stigma around women’s sexuality. So they, very early on, started to buy copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and distributed it in Planned Parenthood around the country.

So, that’s one of the first ways that the missions merged.

Because Planned Parenthood was about educating people about women’s sexuality and contraception available. And here was a book that fit into their mission.

And we had fought to put in a clinic copy discount, thinking about places like Planned Parenthood because they didn’t have that much money. So, we gave a 70 percent clinic discount to people to just give it away, not be sold. And that would create more access to young women and poorer women.

The other thing, of course, is that when the book did come out, I think that many people who worked at Planned Parenthood helped to spread the word. We had common ground.

How does educating women about their bodies and health fit into the larger goal of feminism?

There’s many definitions of feminism. In fact, we sometimes refer to feminisms.

I would say one core element running through all of them is a sense of entitlement to information and access to opportunity. Equal rights, you know, gender equality, those kind of basic concepts. And obviously, having access to information to make informed decisions about your body, having access to resources like contraception and abortion.

My goodness, you can’t control any other decision about your life if you don’t want to have a child and you have a child. And you know, then you are taking care of that child at that moment in time rather than doing something else, working for a very important social justice cause or furthering your personal career.

You know, we do have supports for people who are pregnant and giving birth, but there’s no question, you do a whole lot else if you are a full-time caregiver. And especially because we do not have affordable childcare in this country.

You’ve been fighting similar controversies as Planned Parenthood. What has made both organizations persist for so long?

There is such a need for Planned Parenthood services. We still have whole blocks of the country where other providers aren’t doing what they do. It’s not like someone else is going to step up to the plate to get stuck in such a controversial arena.

And I would say say the same for Our Bodies Ourselves. We’ve come a long way in championing this kind of information [to become] more readily available.

But the problem now is, as opposed to then when you had nothing available, now you have a plethora of information. You have the additional challenge of sorting through what’s out there to figure out what’s trustworthy information and what I will say is basically crap. And there’s a lot of it out there.

The challenge isn’t just getting information out there. It’s getting accurate, reliable information that’s supportive and readable to people.

I have been a keynote speaker at many Planned Parenthood fundraisers. I’m happy to work with Planned Parenthood.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Know someone with a good story about Planned Parenthood? Let me know at emilyerinzak@gmail.com.

Disclosure: Emily Zak is a patient at Planned Parenthood.

Photo Credit: Judy Norsigian


Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Leanne K
Leanne K7 months ago

Fair enough

Telica R
Telica R7 months ago


Emma Z
Past Member 8 months ago

Thanks for this

Patrice Z
Patrice Z8 months ago

Great article. Two great organizations. Thanks for sharing.

Dot A
Dot A8 months ago

Hi Amanda, - You're funny, and right, 'ya know,... Men also do very little reading about women's issues, whereas, women are usual interested in information which would help them understand men better. They're usually not concerned with women's problems, circumstances, or emotions,... and will likely just gravitate to a different 'female' if they aren't getting what they want. One thing women do as mother's is give their boys too much liberty, and train their girls to serve the males. For instance; the expression: "Boys will be boys!", and "Be a good girl!" already programs boys to do as they please, and girls are here to make other people happy. We need to begin early to demonstrate equity for both genders. I told a joke to a cabby the other day and he laughed so hard, and said he'd share this with others: "Just because men are driving a stick-shift doesn't mean they're better~" Thus far in history the phallic symbol is a great stick-shift to run over women. Women aren't going to lay down in the road to get run over male supremacy in the future. I just don't want women to take on the traits of men that aren't admirable and worthy of improving our whole world.

Carl R
Carl R8 months ago


Chad A
Chad Anderson8 months ago

Thank you.

Amanda M
Amanda M8 months ago

Dot A, forget about pregnancy in men-they wouldn't even be able to handle having PERIODS! Let them put up with the mood swings, bloating, bleeding like a stuck pig, and especially the killer cramps that make getting whacked in the nuts ONCE feel painless, and they'd be quick to change their tune about how we need to have control over our bodies! There needs to be a simulator that lets men experience periods, to say nothing of pregnancy, and every man in the world needs to be put through both.

Dot A
Dot A8 months ago

There is not a doubt in my mind, that if men conceived babies, they'd want control of their bodies. Legislation would have long ago given men this entitlement. Without a doubt,.....