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

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

On vaccines, abortion, Goop, doctor Jen Gunter says: ‘I have a duty to speak up’

She speaks out on menstruation, the wellness industry and vaccines

Outspoken doctor and Goop critic Jen Gunter is known for her hot takes on vaginal health, abortion restrictions, and some of the more controversial Gwyneth Paltrow-backed wellness trends.

“My feature and my flaw is bravery,” Gunter says of her no-holds-barred tactics on social media and in interviews, adding she’s not afraid to “shame” those she feels are spreading misinformation and exploiting the vulnerable.

But while Gunter’s quippy delivery and online prowess have cast her as a firebrand, she insists she never envisioned that identity for herself when she studied medicine in Winnipeg and London, Ont.

“I was very impacted by the second wave of feminism and I think I really believed that at this point in my life as a 52-year-old woman that we wouldn’t be fighting for these things — we wouldn’t be fighting for bodily autonomy; we wouldn’t be fighting for access to all the types of health care that we need, and yet we are. So I felt that if people are listening to me that I have a duty to speak up.”

Gunter, now based in the San Francisco Bay area, does exactly that in a new docuseries for CBC’s streaming service Gem, in which she tackles women’s health in 10 episodes 12-to-15 minutes long. Topics include menstruation, the wellness industry and vaccines.

“Jensplaining” begins streaming Friday, while Gunter’s book, “The Vagina Bible,” came out earlier this week.

During a recent stop in Toronto, Gunter sat down at CBC headquarters to discuss her mission to be “an advocate for good health information.”

The Canadian Press: Doctors face backlash for speaking politically, but you seem unfazed by that.

Gunter: This idea that the health of the public isn’t a concern for physicians is incorrect. We care for people whether they’re in our office or globally. I mean we talked about vaccines — that’s the health of the public — we talked about seatbelts, that’s the health of the public, bicycle helmets. Incorrect information can harm us in so many ways. We see individual harm in the office but we also see people voting to have fluoride removed from water because of unfounded fears. This can affect us all in so many negative ways and I just kept thinking that if people were listening to me, I really had a duty to do it right.

CP: How do you handle social media backlash?

Gunter: I’ve had to get people involved at higher levels at Facebook and on Twitter — although Twitter doesn’t really take threats very seriously, unfortunately. Unless you’re somebody threatening a white man — and not even really making a threat — then that’s serious…. Fortunately, I don’t care what anyone thinks about me so that’s probably a positive feature. And I know who I am. I have a really good sense of self and I know what I’m doing is right.

CP: Where are we now in addressing vaccine misconceptions?

Gunter: People who are the hardcore (anti-vaxxers) are actually a minority and the most important thing that we can do is try to contain those views so they don’t contaminate the people that maybe don’t actually have all the information who are maybe more fear-driven.

CP: A lot of smart women know crystals aren’t magical but they enjoy having them. What’s the harm in that?

Gunter: A lot of people have used wellness as an excuse to have joy. So the analogy I always give is my shoes — I love high-end shoes (and) I don’t kid myself that those shoes help the health of my feet in any way…. If having crystals on your counter or having expensive jars of beauty products sparks joy for you that way, that’s OK. That’s totally fine. But there’s a big difference between saying, ‘I love all these different crystals, when I look at them it’s cool” (and) saying, ‘I’m going to spend $85 on crystals because I’m really worried about my health, and I think that’s going to help me get better.”

CP: But women are not getting the information they need. So who has failed them?

Gunter: It’s a global failure across the board. Medicine has long dismissed women. We have only had women in medicine, really, for 30 or 40 years and even then, I still have never had a female head of a department until recently in my whole career. I’m 52. I didn’t even meet a female surgeon in my medical school and that was in the ’80s, so I didn’t have a female mentor to look up to in my training in OB-GYN.

CP: And then there’s the abortion debate.

Gunter: I always say there’s no abortion debate, there’s an abortion discussion because a debate would mean one side’s wrong and there is no wrong side. I’m pro-abortion. I’m happy to say that. Being pro-abortion doesn’t mean that I’m hauling women off subways telling them that they should have abortions. I’m pro-abortion in the same way I’m pro-appendectomy, or I’m pro-C-section or I’m pro-podiatry. If you have a medical condition or a situation where that procedure is indicated, great, then you should have it. And if you don’t have a situation where that procedure is indicated then you shouldn’t have it.

Abortion is health care and in Canada, we’ve proved that. We don’t have abortion in the criminal code in Canada and women are not flocking to have buy-one-get-one free abortions with their best friends at malls. We can trust women and we can trust their providers. (And) we know studies tell us that laws … don’t change the abortion rate, all they do is change the safety for the people having abortions. To say that abortion laws are pro-life is the exact opposite because it’s affecting the life of the pregnant person.

CP: Tell me about “The Vagina Bible.” Are there any other wellness trends that get under your skin?

Gunter: The whole last chapter is dedicated to snake oil. Wellness is so funny — it’s trendy and health care is not trendy. So I think we’re done with turmeric and we’re done with charcoal. With CBD, we’re still stuck in that and there’s absolutely no science to say that it does anything useful. It might, we don’t know. It hasn’t been studied but I wouldn’t pay to put CBD in anything. But that’s me. I like the science.

— This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

ALSO READ: B.C. father tells judge he did not kill his young daughters

ALSO READ: New study suggests autism overdiagnosed: Canadian expert

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province surpasses one million COVID-19 tests Friday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

Most central Alberta communities under province’s enhanced measures list

Sylvan Lake RCMP, Fire Department and Victim Services will be out on Dec. 5 for the annual Charity Check-stop. File Photo
Give Sylvan Lake RCMP the bird at Charity Check-stop

Sylvan Lake RCMP will be accepting frozen turkeys for the food bank during the charity check-stop

Ecole H.J. Cody School. File Photo
Sylvan Lake high school temporarily moves to online classes

Over the weekend, H.J. Cody reported six positive cases of COVID-19

.
Alberta confirmed more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases Sunday

Central zone active cases slightly up

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

Russ and Luanne Carl are sharing about their experiences of fighting COVID-19 this past summer.
photo submitted
Stettler couple opens up about COVID-19 battle

Luanne and Russ Carl urge others to bolster personal safety measures amidst ongoing pandemic

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

‘The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Long-awaited federal rent subsidy program for businesses hurt by COVID-19 opens today

The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest

Traffic crosses over the Lions Gate Bridge from North Vancouver into Vancouver on July 2, 2015. Motorists would have to pay a fee to drive into downtown Vancouver under the city's plan to slow climate change but one expert warns it could pose financial hardship for some. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver’s climate plan ‘first 10 steps in a journey of 10,000,’ says expert

Almost 40 per cent of Vancouver’s carbon pollution comes from vehicles

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
After COVID-related transplant delays, 16-year-old N.S. girl gets lung transplant

‘This is the difficult time now of seeing Tahlia in ICU hooked up to 15 IVs and sedated’

Most Read