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'Washington Post' Columnist Outlines What We Don't Know About Reproduction


The abortion laws working their way through state legislatures deal with complicated issues surrounding conception and pregnancy. And in The Washington Post, columnist Monica Hesse has a piece titled "What We Don't Know About How A Uterus Works Is Going To Hurt Us All." She describes, quote, "the squeamish cloak of secrecy and ignorance that shrouds all things ovarian." And she argues that misunderstandings about reproduction and pregnant bodies can get in the way of honest debate.

Monica Hesse, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MONICA HESSE: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: You start your piece with an anecdote from when you were pregnant last year. Tell us what happened.

HESSE: Sure. I was trying to schedule a sonogram. And when I called the doctor's office, the nurse was not interested in the dates that I thought would be important, like the date of conception. She was interested only in the first date of my last period because it turns out, this is how pregnancy is calculated. It's based on the first day of a person's last period, which means that by the time you think you're two weeks pregnant, the medical community would consider you to already be, say, four weeks pregnant. And this was a distinction that I didn't know and I think a lot of people don't know unless they're pregnant themselves and in that situation.

SHAPIRO: And it's a distinction that seems extremely relevant to some of the debates happening in state legislatures about these laws limiting abortion.

HESSE: Right. So you might have only known you were pregnant for a week or so, but the law might consider you six weeks pregnant or approaching six weeks pregnant.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us any other examples of how men and women on both sides of the abortion debate misunderstand reproduction and pregnancy?

HESSE: Sure. I mean, I think that this week, we were seeing a lot of people try to earnestly have conversations about this and get a lot of information wrong. I saw people suggest things like, well, if you're concerned about meeting the six-week deadline, then why don't you just take a pregnancy test earlier? Why don't you take one as soon as you've had sexual intercourse? But, of course, that's not how it actually works. It takes days for an egg to implant in the uterus. Usually, pregnancy tests are not reliable until after a woman has missed a period. So these are conversations that get muddled when we're trying to have them without having a full set of understanding of what we're talking about.

SHAPIRO: It seems like a Catch-22, where people want to legislate around reproductive health but don't want to talk or learn about reproductive health. So what's the solution?

HESSE: Yeah. I think that that conundrum is really interesting. I got an email from a gentleman yesterday who said something like, this is a natural process. And so we don't need to talk about it because its nature. And I thought, we need to talk about it exactly because it's nature. So I think it starts with learning not to blush when you hear the word placenta or sperm or ovulate. I think it starts from being able to have these kinds of conversations in public and not have us be squeamish about them.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think this ignorance will, as the headline of your piece puts it, hurt us all?

HESSE: When you are not aware of how pregnant bodies work, this can lead to really harmful beliefs about women. I discuss in the piece sort of giggling over an email I received from a gentleman saying he didn't understand why women needed to use sanitary products at all. He thought that women could just kind of hold it, like men can hold urine. And it's funny, right? It's a funny anecdote.

But if you truly believe that women should be able to hold it and not need sanitary products, then you might believe that women who don't do that are lazy. If you truly believe that women should know that they're pregnant within a day after sexual intercourse rather than the weeks that biology dictates, you might believe that women are irresponsible or scatterbrained. So I think that this misinformation causes negative and harmful beliefs.

SHAPIRO: That's Monica Hesse, author and columnist, talking about her most recent piece in The Washington Post, "What We Don't Know About How A Uterus Works Is Going To Hurt Us All."

Monica, thank you for joining us.

HESSE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.