Advocating for women’s reproductive health

Decades apart, two women of Brown support the quest for quality health care through activism, research, and giving.

Mimi Pichey ’72 came to Brown as an activist and has remained one ever since.

Her passion? Making sure women have access to safe, affordable and effective reproductive health care:something that is as critical today as it was when she was an undergraduate. As a student in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Pichey was acutely aware of how limited her options—and those of her friends—were in seeking reproductive health services. “Typically, our choices were either expensive or substandard, if available at all,” says Pichey. “Or even dangerous, as in the case of illegal abortions.” 

As a result, Pichey turned activism into impact by establishing an endowed fund to support women's reproductive health. 

“Brown's Warren Alpert Medical School is at the forefront of schools in the country that sufficiently address issues surrounding abortion, contraception, adolescent pregnancy and parenting, and causes and consequences of infertility,” says Dr. Rebecca Allen, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and associate professor of medical science. “This fund will advance medical training in women’s reproductive health for all students, as well as provide opportunities for the next generation of advocates, educators, and physician leaders working to advance safe and affordable health care for all women.”

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One of those opportunities is the Medical School’s Scholarly Concentration in Women's Reproductive Health. And one of those future leaders is Audrey Carr MD’19.

Audrey Carr MD'19
Audrey Carr MD'19

As an undergraduate psychology concentrator at UMass Amherst, Carr was part of a neuroendocrine lab that studied how parts of the brain differed based on gender. She enjoyed the research, but felt she needed something more direct. “I like working with people,” she says, “and seeing how what you’re doing could change their lives.” 

After graduating, Carr landed an administrative job at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that ignited her interest in women's health. These experiences led her to Brown's Medical School and to the Scholarly Concentration in Women's Reproductive Health (WRH)—an elective program for medical students who wish to take on independent scholarship in a cross-disciplinary field of interest related to medicine.

Access for students

While at Brown, Carr studies how college student health centers in New England provide access for students to intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal implants, two of the most effective long-acting reversible methods of contraception (LARC). Her research mentor is Dr. Allen, a director of the Women's Reproductive Health Scholarly Concentration.

Brown's programs expose students to all aspects of women's health care and challenge them to advocate and lead. I am hopeful that students like Audrey will contribute to maintaining the gains of the past and advancing the future of women's health issues.

Mimi Pichey ’72

Carr became interested in the topic after research found that college-age women (18 to 24 years old) experience the highest rates of unintended pregnancy. Despite national recommendations that LARC methods should be first-line for most women, rates of these methods among college students remain low (11%) and knowledge is limited. Since many students access health care through their student health center, Carr and Allen began studying how providers approach the topic in this setting, and what happens when a student is interested in one of the LARC methods (like Nexplanon or an IUD).

According to Carr, since many college students are navigating health care on their own for the first time, going off-site to obtain a LARC method can be a significant barrier. “Many women think ‘Nevermind—I'm just going [to] take the pill because I can get it here and then I’m done.’”

An active community

Through the Scholarly Concentration, Carr learned both how to identify a clinical problem and how to design a study to address it. She also learned the value of a community of similarly interested people sharing ideas. “That kind of collegial research environment has been invaluable,” says Carr. Her fellow WRH concentrators are engaged in projects ranging from infertility, abortion access, gestational diabetes, and the effects of inflammatory bowel disease on sexual function.

As it was during Mimi Pichey's time at Brown, activism is still alive and well on campus. Carr says, “Lots of people at Brown are actively fighting for women's reproductive health rights, for access to abortion, access to contraception, and access to whatever services someone says are right for them.”

That is reassuring news for Pichey, who knows that this generation—and the generations to come—are the ones who must carry the torch forward. In recognition of the importance of this goal, she is adding to her fund through tax-advantaged distributions from her retirement plan, charitable gift annuities, and a provision in her estate. 

“I am in the fortunate position to be able to share with others," says Pichey. “I don’t have children, and would like to leave a legacy that furthers my ideals.  Brown makes sure that my gift will support the areas I care about most. I am hopeful that students like Audrey will continue to maintain the gains of the past and advance the future of women's health issues.”

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