Abigail Aiken

MD, MPH, PhD, Cambridge University, Harvard University, The University of Texas at Austin

Assistant Professor
Abigail Aiken



Abigail R.A. Aiken is an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. She holds an MD from the University of Cambridge, an MPH from Harvard University, and a PhD from the University of Texas. Her research focuses on reproductive health and spans several disciplines, combining backgrounds in biomedical sciences, public policy, demography, and public health. Her current projects include: examining women's experiences obtaining safe abortion in contexts where access is restricted; evaluating programs and policies designed to increase access to contraception; and investigating the determinants and impacts of unintended pregnancies through a health equity and reproductive justice framework.


S S 301 • Honors Social Science

42365 • Spring 2018
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM GAR 2.112


This course will provide you with an overview of the field of reproductive health and rights and help you to develop the skills required to analyze, evaluate, and advocate for evidence-based reproductive health policy. We will focus primarily on the aspects of reproductive health that relate to fertility control: unintended pregnancy, contraception,
and abortion. The struggle to gain control over fertility has a controversial history, both in the United States and around the world, and is no less divisive in today’s political and social climate.
Like many other policy areas you will encounter, the policies pertaining to reproductive health and rights we see today have been shaped by multiple disciplinary perspectives and a wide variety of players and stakeholders. To become adept at evaluating, designing, and arguing for responsible and just reproductive health policy, you must build a strong foundation of knowledge and develop the skills necessary to apply and communicate that
knowledge. This class is designed to help you to do both those things.

By the end of the semester you will have had the opportunity to:

1) Understand the evolution of family planning programs and develop an appreciation of the inequities ingrained in historical trajectory of reproductive health policies.
2) Get comfortable with the biological processes underpinning human capacity for reproduction and fertility control.
3) Become familiar with the most important research in key reproductive health and rights topic areas and develop in
-depth knowledge of your particular area of interest.
4) Critique and synthesize evidence to evaluate reproductive health policies and apply your knowledge to make policy recommendations.
5) Practice writing effectively on a reproductive health issue, both for a policy audience and for the general public.
6) Master the art of testimony––i.e. presenting oral arguments in favor of or against a policy under legislative or judicial consideration––to design and deliver a concise, compelling, and scientifically supported case for your point of view.

The course is divided into three parts –– two shorter sections and one longer section.

In the first part of the course (the first of the short sections), we will conduct a broad overview of the disciplinary origins of contemporary reproductive health policy; from the population control programs of demographers, to the health- promotion goals of public health practitioners, to the reproductive rights concerns of feminists and reproductive justice advocates.

In the second shorter section, we will learn the key biological principles that govern how the menstrual cycle creates windows of opportunity for pregnancy, how contraceptive methods operate to prevent pregnancy, and how abortion takes place to disrupt pregnancy.

In the third longer section, we will explore key areas of reproductive health policy in detail, focusing on a different topic each week. We will review the important evidence on each topic ––some classic and some brand new–– and synthesize this evidence to evaluate current policies both in United States and internationally.

Weekly readings will be posted to the course web page, which is available through the UT Canvassite (canvas.utexas.edu). Occasionally we will use videos and website links, which are embedded in
the syllabus
We will use one textbook during the course: Contraceptive Technology(20th edition) by Hatcher RA, Trussell J, Nelson A, Cates W, Stewart F, Kowal D, Policar M. New York NY: Ardent Media, 2011.
Copies will be available frommy office and assigned chapters will be posted to Canvas.

To keep up to date with recent policy developments in reproductive health, you can also sign up for
policy updates from the National Partnership for Women and Families:

Attendance: Attendance is expected at every class. If you anticipate needing to be absent, please contact me at
least a week in advance to discuss making up that week’s classwork.
Weekly Readings: The most important contribution you make to this class (and the best favor you can do yourself) is to prepare for each class by reading the assigned reading and spending some time giving it some careful thought. A large fraction of what you will learn in this class will be learned outside the classroom on your own. You learn by thinking, interacting, and thinking some more, not by being told the answer.

All of the reading assigned each week is required. At the same time, I recognize that you also have required reading for other classes, and that you have lives outside of school. For that reason, the reading requirements for this course are not arduous and should be manageable for honors undergraduates. I have  the expectation that you will engage fully with the readings for each week and come prepared to discuss them in class. If you would like further readings on a topic of particular interest, please ask and I will be happy to provide them.

Readings may include research articles, journalistic pieces, and book chapters. My advice is to read each article through once and summarize its main points. Then read it through again, considering its strengths, weaknesses, and contributions. Finally, think about the ways it may support or refute current policy on the topic and what further research it might stimulate.

Class Discussion: I expect everyone to actively participate in the class discussion and activities. Rather than having
discussion leaders for each week, everyone will read the assigned reading and come prepared to ask and answer questions on what they have read. Please come prepared to contribute at least one question or observation on each reading and one over-arching question or observation taking all of the readings into consideration.

Mid-term and Term Papers
You will write a policy memo (1000-word's maximum) on an assigned topic and an op-ed (800 words maximum) on any reproductive health policy topic of your choice.  Your memo and op-ed must be word processed and submitted by email. Late papers will result in a one-letter grade penalty for each day beyond the due date. You must prepare your
own memo and op-ed and all work must be your own. The purpose of writing both a policy memo and an op-ed
is to allow you the opportunity to practice two very different skills that you will need in the research, policy and communication arenas. The first is to communicate facts clearly, accurately, and concisely to policy-makers and to make recommendations based upon the best available evidence. The second is to write persuasively about your informed opinion for the general public.
We will also discuss the expected elements of each assignment during class well in advance of the due dates.

On the last class day, you will deliver a pre-prepared short oral testimony on a reproductive health policy topic of your choice. This topic can be the same as the one you are planning for your op-ed or a different topic.
You will have a maximum of 5 minutes to deliver your testimony to the class, with an additional 2 minutes during which class members can ask you questions. We will talk more about testimony during the semester. Some useful tips can also be found here:http://tcdd.texas.gov/public-policy/public-testimony-tips/

Your final grade for the course will be determined as follows: 30% policy memo; 30% Op-ed; 30% class participation; and 10% testimony. The class participation portion of your grade will be determined by attendance
and your contributions to the discussion each week. The written and oral assignments will be graded holistically, but I will distribute a guide to the key elements on which you will be assessed in advance of each assignment.

This course is geared towards building the knowledge and expertise necessary to evaluate and communicate reproductive health policy. It is also designed to provide a broad overview of the origins of reproductive rights, the essential biomedical knowledge underpinning reproductive health, and the key conversations surrounding reproductive health and rights taking place in society today. No prior knowledge of any of the above course
elements is assumed. All that is required to succeed in this course is an interest in the topic and a willingness to put in the time and effort required to complete the readings and assignments and contribute to the weekly discussions. 
The policy memo and op-ed assignments are designed to improve both your writing and critical thinking skills. If you have never written either of these types of pieces before, don’t worry: this is a great opportunity to learn. To ensure that you have access t resources and support, you will be asked to make an appointment with the Undergraduate WritingCenter: http://uwc.utexas.edu
You are welcome and encouraged to attend office hours (TBA). If you feel you are struggling with course expectations
or with any aspect of the class, please make an appointment to see me right away.

Classroom Etiquette
In any course on public policy, we should expect a variety of perspectives and opinions among class participants. A diversity of view-points is a vital component both of academic enquiry and of policymaking. Every class member
is entitled to their own opinions. However, any opinions you choose to share must be expressed respectfully and other class members have the right to respectfully challenge your opinion. Offensive or hateful language will not be tolerated. Anyone who uses such language will be asked to leave the classroom.

Some of the issues we will discuss may be sensitive or may trigger upsetting reactions for some people. If this happens to you, please feel free to leave the classroom and take a break at any time. Please also feel free to let me know your feelings either during one of the breaks or after class. UT Counseling Services also have resources available for further support: https://cmhc.utexas.edu
If you choose to use a laptop to take notes in class, use it only for that purpose. Checking email, being on social media, or devoting your attention to other internet distractions is disrespectful of everyone else’s time and effort. It also prevents you from getting the best out of the class.
About the Professor:
  • Ph.D., Public Policy, University of Texas at Austin
  • MPH, Harvard University
  • M.D., University of Cambridge
  • B.A., University of Cambridge
Research Areas
  • Reproductive Health
  • Health Policy
Teaching Areas
  • Social Policy

Abigail R.A. Aiken held postdoctoral and lecturer positions at the Office of Population Research and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University before joining The University of Texas in 2016. She is currently an assistant professor of public affairs at the LBJ School and a faculty associate at the Population Research Center. Her research focuses on reproductive health and spans several disciplines, combining backgrounds in biomedical sciences, public policy, demography and public health. Her current projects include: examining women's experiences obtaining self-sourced abortion in contexts where legislative barriers prevent access to safe, legal abortion through the health care system; evaluating programs and policies designed to increase access to contraception in the postpartum and postabortion setting; and investigating the determinants and impacts of unintended pregnancies through a health equity and reproductive justice framework. Her work has recently been published in the BMJ, The New England Journal of Medicine, American Journal of Public Health, Social Science & Medicine, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Contraception, and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, among others.


WGS 393 • Reproductive Health/Rights

47065 • Fall 2017
Meets M 2:00PM-5:00PM SRH 3.220

Interdisciplinary topics relating to Women's and Gender Studies.  Seats restricted to WGS MA and Portfolio students during early registration.  Check cross-listings for home departments and originating field of study.

WGS 393 • Honors Social Science

47152 • Fall 2016
Meets W 2:00PM-5:00PM SRH 3.360

Interdisciplinary topics relating to Women's and Gender Studies.  Seats restricted to WGS MA and Portfolio students during early registration.  Check cross-listings for home departments and originating field of study.

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