Pregnant Woman against wall with hand on her stomach.
Credit: © nico piotto / Getty Images

During a time when women’s reproductive rights are under vicious attack by both Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled House and Senate, many of us have learned that access to family planning options for all women can’t be taken for granted in America. But this has been the case for women in developing nations for years. Cycle Technologies, a company founded by Leslie Heyer, gives women control over their bodies and reproductive health through tools that track their fertility so they can more easily prevent or plan pregnancy.

For the 214 million women worldwide who have an unmet need for contraception, Cycle Technologies is invaluable in preventing unplanned pregnancies.

Heyer told HelloGiggles that when she founded Cycle Technologies, it had the broader purpose of helping organizations and researchers do market analysis and develop business capabilities. One of the company’s first projects involved helping a research organization find a company that would take on the production, distribution, and marketing of a new family planning option they’d developed.

Heyer told HelloGiggles that it didn’t take long for her to fall in love with the mission of helping women prevent unplanned pregnancies and start families at the right time in their lives, if they do want children.

In addition to being incredibly common, unplanned pregnancy has severe repercussions. “[It] limits [a woman’s] educational opportunities, her financial opportunities; it impacts her health, and the health of her kids,” Heyer said. “It puts people in poverty and keeps them in poverty.”

In contrast, when women are able to control when they get pregnant, they have healthier pregnancies, healthier children, and are better able to take care of themselves and remain involved in their communities.

“It seems to me that the biggest impact we can make is by investing in women and girls,” Heyer said. “Giving women contraceptive options that really meet their needs is one of the first and most important things we have to do.”

In late 2002, Cycle Technologies launched CycleBeads, a 95% effective way for women to plan or prevent pregnancy by tracking their menstrual cycles. The impact of CycleBeads has been far-reaching. The Turkana population in Kenya, which has largely rejected the majority of contraceptive methods, embraces CycleBeads because it works within their cultural context. Although it’s common for Turkana women to want many children, CycleBeads allows them to space out their pregnancies — which can make the difference between life and death.

In terms of reproductive rights, Heyer described the past 15 years as a pendulum and said that we’re currently in a challenging time, both nationally and globally. “It feels more like it did back in the early 2000s when there was just less funding overall and a sense that contraceptive access was not as much of a priority for leaders,” she said.

Thankfully, there are companies like Cycle Technologies that empower women when the government attempts to take away our bodily autonomy. Although the company’s strong focus is on pregnancy planning, Heyer emphasized that its methods and products also seek to provide women with an understanding of how our bodies work.

Furthermore, many women who do have access to contraception prefer to not use it because of the side effects. Cycle Technologies provides women with methods of birth control that don’t have side effects, but still allows them to decide if and when they plan to get pregnant.

Whether CycleBeads is a woman’s only option or the one that happens to fit best with her health and lifestyle, a variety of birth control options empowers all women by giving us control over our reproductive health.