This International Women’s Day, Let’s Unite Around Choice

I started Tia because I wanted to build a company — a product, a brand, and a community — that unites women. At a time when so many issues divide us, a desire to have control over, and choice in, our reproductive healthcare, is something that can unite us.

In the U.S., 99% of sexually active women age 15–44 have used birth control. Globally, more than 300 million women are using birth control today. There is an inherent beauty in this shared reproductive experience that transcends race, borders, socioeconomics, and dare I say, party lines. Rich, poor, black, white, purple, yellow — every woman on earth has questions about what’s going on in her body, and a desire to make informed healthcare decisions with confidence. Yet, the current politicizing of women’s health prevents us women from seeing it this way.

For every public $1 invested in family planning in the U.S., $7 is saved to the system (link).
When women in developing countries space their births by at least three years, their babies are almost twice as likely to reach their first birthday (link).

The stats go on. When you invest in family planning, you invest in a woman and you invest in her family. You invest in the future.

This isn’t rocket science. And it’s not controversial. It’s just a fact.

But, in a world of alternative facts, even the most scientifically-proven and universal of evidence is challenged and politicized. As a result, women’s health, both in the U.S. and around the world, is under attack.

The Trump administration’s reinstatement and expansion of the global gag rule will cause nongovernmental organizations around the world working for the betterment of women and their families to lose funding — all because they mention abortion. Unlike its predecessors, Trump’s version of the gag rule does not only apply to U.S. family planning funding, but all global health funding, roughly $9.5 billion dollars in aid. By providing women with any information whatsoever about abortion and their options, organizations working on AIDS, malaria, and maternal and child health are considered “ill-fit” to receive U.S. foreign aid.

To take one example, Geeta Rao Gupta, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, explains how this will affect HIV/AIDS clinics that get U.S. funding to provide antiretrovirals: “If they’re giving advice to women on what to do if they’re pregnant and HIV positive, giving them all the options that exist, they cannot now receive money from the U.S.”

And just this week here at home in the U.S., we see our very our national “gag rule” proposed. Trump’s proposed “deal” to Planned Parenthood: stop providing legal and safe abortions, and you can keep your funding for cervical cancer screenings and all the other “uncontroversial” work you do, OR, lose all of your funding, putting Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide any health care services to women in severe danger. To get the facts straight, there is already zero federal funding for abortions due to the Hyde Amendment. Moreover, history shows that when a woman cannot get an abortion legally, she will find a way to get one illegally, often through dangerous channels that put her life at risk. To pose this as a “choice” to women, and to healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood, is the ultimate fallacy.

These attacks on women’s healthcare in the U.S. and globally are a reminder that when one woman’s reproductive choices are undermined, all of our rights are in jeopardy.

We at Tia believe wholeheartedly in choice — a real choice — for all. We believe in bodily autonomy.

We believe in the right for every person to make independent and informed decisions for their own bodies and lives with confidence.
We believe that only you can distinguish between what is right and wrong for your body, your life, and your family.

This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating and defending choice, with all of its baggage, for all. This universally shared experience of reproduction can only be unifying if we stand together and defend choice — a real choice — for everyone.

To join us, share what “choice” means to you in the comments below.

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Originally posted by Carolyn Witte, Co-Founder and CEO of Tia

Get out the March with Tia

I created Tia to give women more agency in their healthcare. To help all people make independent and informed decisions about their bodies and health with confidence.

So when I heard about the Women's March on Washington and local marches taking place around the country, I wanted to make sure that we were there too, advocating for the issues we care about alongside the individuals and organizations that inspire us. I want to encourage people to march for the issues that matter to them, and to add their voice to an important conversation. When we champion each other, when we are united in our mission to create a more equal and positive world, we are stronger.

As an Official Supporter of the Women’s March, we at Tabu Health march to defend and expand access to reproductive healthcare for all (I wrote about what's at stake here). But there are lots of reasons to Get-Out-The-March, so we put together a few tools for you to add your voice and share your story, too.

Join us.

We’ll see you at the March.

In solidarity,

Carolyn Witte

Founder & CEO at Tabu Health

A Panicked Quest for Birth Control

Why we’re working to arm women with information, now more than ever

In the aftermath of last week’s election, shock enveloped the nation. For many marginalized groups including immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ folk, and women, this shock has tragically manifested into fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of violence. Fear of the unravelling of progressive policies that once-upon-a-time promised equality. Within a few hours of Donald Trump’s victory, the Canadian immigration website crashed, suicide hotlines began seeing a record number of calls from LGBTQ people, and women took to Twitter to share advice on how to get an IUD. According to Google Trends, searches for “birth control” increased 400% the day after the election, most popular in red states like West Virginia.

Google Search volume for the term “Birth Control” in the U.S. before and after the election.

Google Search volume for the term “Birth Control” in the U.S. before and after the election.

As a company whose mission is to give people agency in their healthcare, we at Tabu Health feel an urgent need to arm women and all people with uteruses with factual information to make educated decisions about their reproductive health with confidence.

We believe that decisions such as whether to get an IUD or take birth control pills are highly personal and merit thought, not panic. What’s right for one person may not be right for another. Now more than ever, we are committed to helping people make informed choices that serve their individual healthcare needs.

In effort to put this birth control mania into context, we feel it’s important to start by stating the facts — what we know and what we don’t know — about the key women’s health issues at stake over the next four years.

#1: The future of the Affordable Care Act

What we know: The proportion of women who were uninsured declined by nearly 40% since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With more people covered, there are fewer uninsured patients visiting family planning centers — a win-win for women, clinics, and taxpayers alike (source).

What we don’t know: What Trump’s threat to “replace and repeal” the ACA really means, and how many people risk losing coverage. After meeting with President Obama last week, Trump said he would consider leaving in place certain parts of the ACA, a significant shift from his defiant campaign rhetoric.

#2: Access to affordable birth control

What we know: The ACA’s federal contraceptive coverage guarantee has resulted in a sharp decline in birth control costs, giving 55 million American women access to birth control without a copay. Today, 9 out of 10 insured women can now pay $0 for an IUD, a birth control device that can cost up to $1000 without insurance (source).

What we don’t know: What will happen to the ACA’s contraceptive coverage guarantee, and how this will affect the cost of birth control, particularly for highly effective, but more costly long-acting reversible forms of contraception like IUDs and implants.

#3: Funding for Planned Parenthood

What we know: Planned Parenthood receives the majority of their funding from Title X and Medicaid. Last year alone, Planned Parenthood health centers saw 2.5 million patients and provided more than 4 million sexually transmitted tests and treatment, more than 360,000 breast exams, more than 270,000 Pap tests, and birth control for 2.1 million people (source). Without publicly funded contraceptive services, the U.S. rates of unintended pregnancy, unplanned birth and abortion would have each been 68% higher, and the teen pregnancy rate would have been 73% higher (source).

This September, President Obama took unilateral action to protect Title X grants by introducing a rule that forbids the withholding of Title X family planning money for any reason whatsoever other than a “provider’s ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner” (source).

Net-net: Republican states can no longer vote to defund Planned Parenthood just because some of its clinics offer abortion services.

What we don’t know: How much money Congress will appropriate to Title X over the next four years, and if and how Medicaid funds will be directed and distributed.

#4: The Supreme Court

What we know: Forty-three years after Roe vs. Wade, reproductive rights continued to be challenged in the Supreme Court. This past year alone, two significant reproductive healthcare cases were brought to the highest court in the country.

In Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, the Court ruled that Texas cannot place restrictions on the delivery of abortion services that create an “undue burden” for women seeking an abortion, setting an important precedent for other states imposing similar laws. In Zubik vs. Burwell, which questions whether religious institutions other than churches should be exempt from the ACA contraceptive mandate, the Supreme Court did not institute a ruling, but instead returned the case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration, putting employer-based coverage for birth control at risk.

What we don’t know: Who will be nominated for the open seat left by Justice Scalia, how quickly the Senate will confirm the nominee, and the effect this new justice will have on historic reproductive rights cases like Roe vs. Wade.

In the face of such uncertainty, we at Tabu Health are doubling-down on our effort to help people navigate the complex world of reproductive healthcare. We believe that with the right information, women can make independent and informed decisions about their own health better than anyone else.

We are expediting the launch of our first product, the Tia app for iPhone, to provide personalized, data-driven birth control recommendations and connect people with providers who can deliver quality, affordable care. Sign up here to get notified when our beta is released.

There’s a long road ahead to ensuring all people have access to quality reproductive healthcare, and we need your help. Here are three simple ways you can take action to further reproductive justice in your own life and communities:

  1. Be proactive about your reproductive health. Schedule that overdue birth control consultation, STI test, or Pap smear you’ve been putting off. Arm yourself and others with the information your need to make informed choices now in face of an uncertain future.
  2. Get involved on the local level. Support your city and state-level politicians advocating for inclusive healthcare policies. Donate to Planned Parenthood or your community health centers that serve at-risk populations disproportionately affected by this volatility.
  3. Educate yourself and others about your reproductive rights. Know the law, what you should and shouldn’t pay, and insist on the care that you rightfully deserve.

Together, we can battle the unknown and work towards a world in which choice is realized for all. A world in which all people everywhere are empowered to make informed decisions about their bodies, reproductive lives, and sexual health that they can confidently own. Join us.

Voting for choice: what's really at stake on November 8th

At Tabu Health, we believe that choice — and just as importantly, the right for every individual to exercise choice — is central to women’s health, and central to America. We believe that preserving choice is critical to our mission of helping people make informed decisions about their bodies, reproductive health, and sex lives with confidence.

On November 8th, we have an opportunity to vote to protect and expand choices, or vote to restrict them, and in doing so, limit access to healthcare for millions of women in America.

Here’s what voting for choice means to us at Tabu Health:

A vote for choice means your president can’t choose your birth control. (Nor can your senator, congressmen, insurance company or employer).

A vote for choice means access to affordable birth control for every woman in America.

A vote for choice means funding for Planned Parenthood, who provides essential reproductive and preventative health care services to 2.5 million patients every year.

A vote for choice means your employer’s religious beliefs can’t trump your right to birth control coverage.

A vote for choice means Paid Family Leave for mothers and fathers, so no one has to choose between keeping their job and managing their health.

A vote for choice means protecting access to safe and legal abortion without undue burden.

A vote for choice means that ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no.’

On November 8th, we are voting for choice. For women’s health. For candidates who believe that every American should be empowered to make independent and informed decisions for their health and their bodies they can confidently own. For policies and propositions that will protect, expand and activate choice across all parts of our lives. We hope you too, will get-out-the-vote, and vote for choice.

Want to learn how the presidential candidates line up on these issues? Check out the Planned Parenthood Action Fund voter guide for the facts.

My next chapter: hacking women’s health

I’ve always been a hacker. Not one of those cyber-hackery types you might be thinking of sitting in a dark room somewhere, aggressively scheming their way into your email. Rather, I am a hacker of everyday things… of ordinary objects, products and processes.

A hack is simply a mechanism of solving a problem — a creative work-around or way of overcoming limitations when a product/object/system fails you. Often, hacks involve using something for a purpose outside of its original intent. Think: walking around with an umbrella on a hot, sunny day.

A few examples…

In college, I hacked a bed-net — you know, one of those hot, uncomfortable insecticide-treated mosquito contraptions you sleep under in Africa — with a solar panel, a battery, a circuit breaker, and a cell phone charger. Our goal was to incentivize people to use bed-nets — something they needed to stay healthy — with the thing they wanted most — the ability to charge their phone. It was like putting vitamins in ice cream.

At Google, my team and I hacked messaging apps to make it easier to consume and share information in the context of your conversation. Rather than create a new behavior that users had to learn, we leaned into the hack users were already doing — copy-pasting back and forth from Google Search and Translate to messaging apps — to make it easier to search and translate within any app on your phone. (You can read more about the user hacks that inspired Gboard and Tap to Translate here).

Of greatest interest to me is how hacks can be the tell-tale sign of a problem that needs solving. They’re like a blinking red light that’s trying to tell you: PROBLEM THAT NEEDS TACKLING LIVES HERE! (After all, if a solution existed, you wouldn’t need a hack!). When you discover a hack and can turn into a tangible product insight, it becomes the seed of a solution.

Six months ago, I left Google to apply this hack-centric design thinking to women’s health, a longtime passion of mine. I sought out to unearth the hacks in this space by interviewing dozens of women spanning puberty to menopause. Through this process I heard hilarious, heartfelt, and tragic stories of women hacking their own health care, almost always caveated by “I’m probably the only one that does this, but…”

Spoiler alert: none of you are the only one. Here’s a shortlist of some of my favorite hacks I discovered through this process:

  • Tracking your basal body temperature in an Excel spreadsheet every single day while you’re trying to get pregnant
  • Postmate-ing your birth control from CVS when you get stuck late at the office and need it that night to not screw up your cycle
  • Google image searching “IUD insertion” when you’re too embarrassed to ask where “that thing” goes (and screaming when you see the results page)
  • Putting on double underwear on those heavy period days when you’re just not sure if you’ll be able to leave that meeting in time to change your tampon
  • Setting up iPhone alarms in multiple time zones to make sure you always take your birth control on time, no matter where you are
  • Always searching for “girl things” in incognito windows to avoid that awkward moment when your boyfriend borrows your phone to search for pizza nearby and stumbles on your egg freezing search history instead
  • Creating your own emoji code language in your calendar to remind you when your period is supposed to start
  • Scrambling to get Plan B when you’re “just not sure” how many birth control pills you took late that month

These are just some of the hacks that half the world’s population resorts to in order to manage their health, often, without ever talking to anyone about them. While certainly indicative of women’s creativity and problem-solving capabilities, these hacks also reveal some fundamental issues facing women’s health today:

1. Decision complexity: women — and at times, their healthcare providers — are all too often “guessing” about their health

2. Lack of personalized information: a lack of easy access to information about your own body exacerbates this guesswork problem

3. Taboo topics: the hush-hush nature of women’s basic healthcare prevents important dialogue needed to spearhead solutions

Eager to turn these hacks into insights, I’ve started Tabu Health, a new kind of women’s health-tech company reimagining reproductive health through the lens of individual women. Our approach is to turn women’s health hacks into insights that can power new products and services that give women agency in their health care — products that give women access to the information, community, and care they need to make decisions about their health and bodies with confidence.

We are starting by hacking birth control — an issue that affects 99% of women in their lifetime — with a digital women’s health assistant app named Tia. You can follow our progress here and sign up to be a beta tester here.

Have your own women’s health hack you’d like to share? Message me!