Canadian anti-Goop doctor takes aim at increasingly strict U.S. abortion laws

Dr. Jen Gunter is photographed in Toronto on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO - A Canadian doctor best known for criticizing Gwyneth Paltrow's wellness brand Goop is turning her attention to combating increasingly restrictive abortion laws in the United States.

Winnipeg-born obstetrician and gynecologist Jen Gunter says tough measures such as those in Georgia and Alabama won't reduce the number of abortions nor improve health-care for pregnant women and their fetus.

Now based in San Francisco, she says the issue has become so politicized and overcome by misinformation that getting the facts out is hard.

Gunter recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times criticizing "medically illiterate abortion laws," arguing they would only make medically necessary abortions harder to get and increase maternal deaths.

During a stop in Toronto to promote an upcoming docuseries called "Jensplaining" for CBC's Gem, she says it's important to hold politicians accountable for what they're saying.

Gunter has also made headlines for challenging health claims made by products endorsed by Paltrow's Goop — including coffee enemas, a jade egg designed to be inserted into the vagina and a tincture that purported to clear guilt and shame.

The straight-talking specialist in women's health has emerged as an especially vocal critic of dubious health-and-wellness claims and said Wednesday that has increasingly meant taking a political stand, as well.

Gunter — who has harnessed Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to reach audiences — said a spate of anti-abortion rhetoric from U.S. Republicans has more to do with "raising campaign dollars" than raising awareness about women's health and pregnancy.

"It's a way to control bodies, it's a way to control bodies that can get pregnant, it's a way to keep people in poverty," Gunter said.

"(Laws) don't change the abortion rate. All they do is change the safety for the people having abortions."

Gunter suggested her own checklist for improving fetal life: "You need to get rid of cigarette smoking, you need to get rid of gun violence."

And if lawmakers want to reduce abortions, she suggested ensuring easy access to long-acting, reversible contraception as well as prenatal vitamins that can reduce the incidence of birth defects.

U.S. states including Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Mississippi have recently passed restrictive state laws that would ban the procedure in most cases when a fetal heartbeat has been detected. None of the bans have taken effect, and all are expected to face legal challenges.

"Abortion is health care and ... we can trust women and we can trust their providers," said Gunter.

"The problem is that for many people abortion has been so politicized and there's so much misinformation that undoing it is hard."

Gunter also criticized the high cost of insulin in the United States for those who are uninsured.

The average insulin price nearly tripled from 2002 through 2013, and prices have risen 10% or more a year since then, forcing many diabetics in the U.S. to ration their insulin. Some have ended up in hospitals and a few have died as a result, which has led to congressional hearings on the issue.

She called that "obscene," especially when the Canadian researchers who discovered insulin in a University of Toronto lab in 1921 did not make any money off of their breakthrough. Soon after his discovery, Frederick Banting sold the patent to the university for about a dollar.

"People are dying because they can't afford insulin based on this thing that was basically invented by Canadian researchers, paid by taxpayer dollars that they wanted everybody to have," said Gunter, referring to a team of researchers including Banting and Charles Best.

"Their idea wasn't to make money off of this, their idea was to save lives. Companies that are saying insulin should cost that amount of money, they should be ashamed of themselves. They are taking advantage of people in a way that I don't have words to explain but it's cruel and it's wrong."

—With files from The Associated Press

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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