"I think it’s a woman’s right to decide what to do with her body and to have access to that," Shriver says

By Morgan M. Evans and Charlotte Triggs
July 31, 2019 05:48 PM
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Maria Shriver
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Maria Shriver is spotlighting the lack of research in women’s healthcare through segments on the third hour of the Today show called Women’s Wellness Disrupt-HERS with Maria Shriver, beginning in honor of August’s National Wellness Month. And Shriver is not shying away from the abortion debate when it comes to discussing all of the facets of women’s healthcare.

“I’ve always been pro-choice. And I think it’s a woman’s right to decide what to do with her body and to have access to that,” Shriver, 63, told PEOPLE, while discussing the series.

“I always make the distinction pro-choice is not pro-abortion. It’s pro a woman’s right to choose. To choose what to do with her body, her life, what job to take. I’m not pro-abortion,” she clarifies. “Not everybody who is pro-choice is pro-abortion. It’s pro a woman’s right to choose. We had a very long time in our history where we didn’t have the right to vote, to own property, to get finances, to have your name on the deed of your house, to get divorced. There are a lot of things women have not had a choice about that have been changed in my lifetime by women raising their voices.”

Disrupt-HERS focuses on other important women’s healthcare issues, including Alzheimers.

“My work in the Alzheimers space, which I’ve been doing in the last 15 years, trying to figure out why women are the primary ones to get Alzheimers,” she says. “There’s a huge gender research gap, which has led to a gender knowledge gap.”

She continues, “[Women] get depression more than anybody, get anxiety, 80 percent of the autoimmune issues start when a woman gets her period. There’s this vacuum of what do we know and what can we do about it?”

Shriver adds that women’s healthcare treatments remain the same while other technologies are changing rapidly.

“Tampax has been the same for 50 years. Doctors have been treating women’s concerns the same way for 30 years and things are changing by the decade and nothing has caught up with that,” she says. “All across America, people think a woman’s physical is a pap smear and a mammogram and it’s not.”

The mother of four says, “Women are often dismissed for their symptoms. I had a thing with my eyes, and the doctor said you’re fine, and I said, no I don’t FEEL fine,” she says. “Of course, I’m getting a second opinion but that’s not an option for many people, because it takes time, it costs money. Women need to be listened to.”

Shriver has appeared as a guest on the Today Show, where her segments were well received by the morning show’s audience and led to the creation of Disrupt-HERS.

“It’s an exciting series and there was a huge response. The 3rd Hour decided to make this an ongoing series,” she says.