ARCHIVAL (GETTY, 1-21-17 ):PROTESTORS: My body, my rights!

NARRATION: People are taking to the streets and defending womens rights.

ARCHIVAL (GETTY, 1-21-17):PROTESTORS: My body, my choice!

NARRATION: And in popular culture, reproductive rights are taking center stage.

ARCHIVAL (THE HANDMAIDS TALE, HULU):You girls will serve the leaders and their barren wives. You will bear children for them.

NARRATION: The Handmaids Tale imagines a dystopian future of forced surrogacy and the subjugation of women. Almost half a century ago, some women felt treated like second class citizens, especially when it came to their own bodies.

JUDY NORSIGIAN (CO-AUTHOR, OUR BODIES, OURSELVES): We were dealing with a system that was antithetical to getting good medical care and being treated like full human beings.

NARRATION: Judy Norsigian was one of a group of women who got together and wrote what became an owners manual for women.

JUDY NORSIGIAN: Our Bodies, Ourselves. And, of course, the rest is history.

NARRATION: In the early 1970s, abortion was illegal in most states. And as a young single woman, Judy Norsigian experienced the kind of limitations on reproductive rights that were pervasive at the time.

JUDY NORSIGIAN: I was in school in the late 60s, I graduated in 1970, you couldnt get a contraceptive as an unmarried woman.

NARRATION: She was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when a friend told her about a consciousness-raising sessions about female bodies and things women had experienced.

JUDY NORSIGIAN: When we first got together there were stories about doctor visits. 98% of OB-GYNs were men. The physician would go and tell the womans husband that she has the clap, and, Must have gotten it from you, so you need to clean up your act. Im going to give her a drug. And they never even told the woman. Thats how paternalistic the system could be at that point in time.

NARRATION: The women shared their stories about things that had been kept hush hush.

JUDY NORSIGIAN: Sexual harassment, violence against women, it was all on the table. We were beginning to educate ourselves.

NARRATION: Collectively, they began researching and writing, to dispel myths about womens health and sexuality, and to empower women to have agency over their own bodies.

JUDY NORSIGIAN: What we wanted to do was underscore the importance of body knowledge.

NARRATION: Our Bodies, Ourselves was revolutionary in its candid explanation of womens sexuality and the book has been translated into more than 30 languages. But it also caused some controversy and some schools and libraries banned it.

JUDY NORSIGIAN: If were going to be effective players personally in our lives, politically in the community, we have to be strong in our core and that comes from understanding how our bodies work.

NARRATION: Today, many myths about womens health and physiology persist. When asked whether abortion should be considered in cases of rape, former U.S. Congressman Todd Akin said this:

ARCHIVAL (JACO REPORT, KTV, 8-16-12):CONGRESSMAN TODD AKIN: If its a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

NARRATION: In parts of Africa, a fallacy about HIV has endangered young girls.

ARCHIVAL (THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC, 10-27-14):LAURIE HOLDEN (ACTRESS, ACTIVIST): There was a myth if you have sex with a virgin, youll be cured of AIDS.

NARRATION: And myths about fertility have been around for centuries. People used to blame women exclusively for infertility. They didnt believe it afflicted men and women were prohibited from excessive reading, because of the belief that it could make them infertile.

That history provided inspiration for Margaret Atwood, who wrote The Handmaids Tale.

ARCHIVAL (PBS NEWSHOUR):MARGARET ATWOD: I made sure every horrific detail in the book had happened sometime, at somewhere.

NARRATION: Atwoods story is resonating today.


NARRATION: Some women at health care rallies are wearing The Handmaids outfit, protesting proposed cuts in womens health care. Judy Norsigian says more young people are becoming aware, as she did in the 1970s, that the personal is political.

JUDY NORSIGIAN: Im seeing a real ground swell of many, many more young men and women who are stepping up to the plate.