If you thought that pink ribbons for breast cancer were the only healthcare-related accessory for the fashion-forward politician, think again: Reproductive rights just got an amazing—and glittery!—makeover. Lawmakers in Colorado have been wearing earrings in the shape of IUDs (intrauterine devices) to raise awareness about a controversial bill that would provide contraceptive care to low-income women.
While the IUD has been on the market since the 1970s and is widely accepted worldwide as a safe, effective, and super low-maintenance form of birth control, it’s just never been as popular with American women. That might be about to change. The Colorado Family Planning Coalition has made the devices available at no cost to low-income women at 68 centers across the state. Five years later, teenage pregnancy dropped by a staggering 40%. That’s the statistic at the heart of the bill, which has supporters on both sides of the aisle—including self-described “Redneck Republican” Senator Don Coram, who proudly displayed his glittery IUD pin in an interview with the Denver Post and explained why funding this program makes sense.
So, how does it feel to be the jewelry designer at the center of all this? Meet Dr. Virginia Smith. She’s a physician based in Akron, Ohio, and she’s just a few weeks shy of completing her OB/GYN residency. She’s also the creator of an Etsy store called SHARLEN Creations, where she’s been selling her custom jewelry designs for about a year. We caught up with her after a long day at work, where she was surprised and delighted to discover that something she had crafted “on a whim” was now influencing public policy.
MTV: Thank you so much for talking with us today! OK, so, tell us more about your earrings. How long have you been making these?
Dr. Virginia Smith: I was actually just trying to look back to find my first pictures of my prototypes to pinpoint the exact date—I think about eight or nine months ago. They’re not real IUDs—they’re created with a resin base. I tried a lot of different products at first before finding the right mixture, which allows me to do fun stuff, like add glitter.
MTV: The glitter is my favorite part, to be honest!
Smith: I mean, it’s an IUD! It’s not necessarily cute. You gotta do something to make it fun, a little girly, so that people actually want to wear it. I originally had no intentions of selling these at all—the original idea wasn’t mine. A colleague asked me to create one for her.
MTV: Can you tell me more about that?
Smith: Sure! She is also a practicing OB/GYN. We met each other in med school, and she knew that I made jewelry and was very crafty with my hands. She said, "I have a project for you...I really want a pair of earrings that look like IUDs,” and I laughed and I said, "OK...I’m sure I can do that. Give me some time to figure it out." When I sent her the first pair, she just went nuts; she thought it was the best thing.
It’s funny, she actually predicted, like, “Oh my gosh, this is going to go viral. Everybody is gonna love these.” I was like, “Yeah, whatever, OK, sure.” She honestly was the one who convinced me to add them to my website, tried to get me to advertise—which I didn’t do, I’m a really busy physician!—and now here we are. Senators wearing them. It’s really taken on a life of its own.
MTV: When did you learn that the earrings had become this symbol of reproductive rights activism in Colorado?
Smith: Well, most people don’t tell me what they place the orders for. I thanked the person who placed the large order, like I do every customer—they gave a small indication that they were working for an entity that was helping give people who couldn’t afford IUDs the chance to help pay for them. And I just thought, “Oh, that’s great!” and moved on. It wasn’t until much later that I saw my earrings on the ears of a senator.
To be honest, I haven’t read the Colorado bill in full, so I can’t speak specifically to those details. But I can say that I’m a healthcare provider. I’m an OB/GYN. I see a lot of young women get into bad situations, make bad decisions, sometimes decisions that are made for them prematurely and unfairly. Had someone given them an option to prevent pregnancy—I mean, these devices last for five years. Think about what five years’ difference could mean in your own life, in the lives of these young women. I support young women being given options and being able to take control over making their own decisions in life.
MTV: Do you think your earrings are helping spread awareness of this method of birth control? I mean, to be honest, a lot of people aren’t really familiar with what they look like.
Smith: Oh, I know! Most people think they’re anchors or fishhooks. The people who really recognize them are either in the healthcare field, or they’re women who have them themselves. I’ve gotten some requests for the earrings from people who work in healthcare and just want something to be able to show their patients, to be able to say, “Oh, they’re really this small, they look like this, just not sparkly!” My earrings are pretty true to scale. I love that they’re being used as an education tool. It’s so great.
MTV: Any plans for creating new healthcare-themed jewelry down the line?
Smith: I'm always looking for something new and cool to do! Maybe I’ll make some pins or necklaces next. I’m excited for the next idea that inspires me or the next colleague who approaches me with an idea. Hopefully they’re not, like, a proctologist or urologist—I might draw the line there.
But this one is having its own little run, which is great. And as long as people want IUD pins and earrings and paraphernalia, I will gladly keep creating them.
MTV: We’re so glad you are! Thank you so much for speaking with us, Virginia. I’m gonna place my order right now.