by Amy Bloom, former Network Intern.
Today, Alice Wolfson has taken her years of experience as an activist into the legal profession. As a successful attorney, she fights for women to have fair and equal access to insurance coverage for various health conditions. Presently, she is working on obtaining proper reimbursement for women who have suffered breast implant leakage and rupture.
Looking back at her involvement in women's health activism, Wolfson is proud to have "left things better than when they started." She claims that the pill hearings were the first time women as a group became visibly determined to gain control over their bodies. The pill and the hearings "got the ball rolling," inciting women all over the country to stand up and take charge over their bodies and demand equal and fair access to health care.
Though maintaining support for the work of the NWHN, she asserts that women's health advocates today might achieve their goals better in smaller, more specific groups rather than in wide-reaching organizations that are often marginalized by their radical positions. In addition, she says that today's women's movement is not really a "movement" anymore. Years ago the women's movements felt more like a "movement" because its mission was more clearly defined; there was a sense of working towards specific goals.
Although the women's health movement achieved some concrete changes, today Wolfson is discouraged about the future. With the overwhelmingly Republican and conservative outcome of the latest election, things are looking grim for women's health reform.
She encourages law and medicine as a way for women to become involved in the women's movement today. By becoming lawyers and doctors, she believes women can directly affect change in areas that have historically excluded and misrepresented women.
When asked about birth control today, Wolfson argues against Norplant and states explicitly, "here we go again." Wolfson is very concerned about serious, but unreported and unrecognized side effects of Norplant as well as its use as a method of population control. According to Wolfson, "it is criminal today to suggest anything other than condoms." Like Barbara Seaman, Wolfson advocates use of barrier methods over oral or injection contraceptives.
She strongly voices that choosing a birth control method must ultimately lie with the woman because it is her body that would be affected by its failure. Moreover, Alice stresses that today's sexually active people have to protect themselves against HIV/ AIDS as well as unplanned pregnancy, so "it's not so simple anymore." Wolfson supports the use of barrier methods even more strongly today than in earlier times because spermicidal foams and jellies in conjunction with condoms provide excellent protection against HIV/ AIDS as well as pregnancy.
Also, she warns against the still pervasive myth that the birth control pill is a "miracle drug" when it provides no protection against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/ AIDS. Also, with more recent research into the connection between breast cancer and the birth control pill, Wolfson is even more concerned about recommending its use.
According to Wolfson, the women's health movement has claimed for women the right to know about and the right to control their bodies. Now that women have more freedom to make their own choices about their bodies and their health, they have no excuse not to fight for change. Women themselves have cultivated the ideals of choice and "informed consent" and Alice Wolfson hopes these ideas will continue to motivate women to work towards better health care.
Jan/Feb 1995 issue of the Network News.