Newsletter The Women’s Health Activist® is a bimonthly publication of the National Women’s Health Network. We’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Amy Allina
The National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) was founded in 1975, at a time when many women’s health activists felt encouraged by the changes they saw in reproductive health care. The organization’s early years coincided with the start of the modern era of legal abortion in the United States. Following the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, women in many states gained access to safe and legal abortion care for the first time. Today, when state restrictions on abortion care are proliferating and reducing women’s access to abortion services, it’s easy to be nostalgic about those years.
The Network never shies away from tough issues – whether it’s challenging the dangerous over-promotion of menopause hormone therapy to healthy women, or calling for universal health care. This issue of the newsletter includes articles on several issues we’re working on right now – and some of them are definitely tough.
By Susan Gurley and Beth Tomasello
Heart disease – also called cardiovascular disease (CVD) — is the leading cause of death in the United States for both women and men, affecting 75 million Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 800,000 Americans die every year from CVD.i The risks to men are more widely known, with the result that CVD is often thought of more primarily a threat to men…but nothing could be farther from the truth. CVD claims women and men in nearly equal numbers.
By Emily May
That’s the question a workshop facilitator posed to a group that included Tina Fey, who then related the following in her book, Bossypants:
The group of women was racially and economically diverse, but the answers had a very similar theme. Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them. “I was walking home from ballet and a guy in a car yelled, ‘Lick me!'’” “I was babysitting my younger cousins when a guy drove by and yelled, ‘Nice ass.’” There were pretty much zero examples like “I first knew I was a woman when my mother and father took me out to dinner to celebrate my success on the debate team.” It was mostly men yelling shit from cars.1
By Candace Gibson
Early this year, I heard Sophia’s story, and it has stuck with me ever since. Sophia is an undocumented Latina immigrant living in Texas. Because of her immigration status, she is locked out of our health care system. Neither her nor her husband’s employer offers health insurance and, although Sophia’s family would qualify for Medicaid coverage on the basis of income, they are barred from participating in the program because they are undocumented. They are too afraid to enroll their children, who are U.S. citizens. While a handful of Texas clinics serve undocumented women’s health needs, none are easy to get to, and even the sliding scale fees are beyond Sophia’s reach.
By Grace Adofoli
As an African woman, I come from a place where sexual and reproductive health is not explicitly discussed or confronted like it is here. I’ve long struggled to understand the ways that issues and concepts like Reproductive Justice, Reproductive Health, and Reproductive Rights fit together and interact within the women’s health movement. So, I was delighted to have the opportunity, as a NWHN intern, to attend the United Nations’ 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57), and participate in the dialogues about these issues and women’s rights. (CSW57 was held in March 2013, at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City.)
The use of home testing kits for Chlamydia and gonorrhea could help overcome barriers to STD testing and help get people treated faster. The L.A. County Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Program’s “I Know” campaign encouraged women to order a free home STD testing kits and get their results either online or by phone. The program targeted young African American and Latina women, who may face higher barriers to care. In its 1st year, the 2,927 kits were distributed and 1,543 testable specimens received, of which 7.9% tested positive for Chlamydia and 1% for gonorrhea. Among 12-to-25-year-old women, the at-home testing rate was four times the average per-clinic testing rate at 12 local STD clinics. As hoped, young women of color ordered the most kits; the program was the least successful among Spanish speakers, women under 20, and women with gonorrhea. With improvements, the program could expand free and accessible STD testing for those who are at higher risk and/or face barriers to testing services.
American Journal of Public Health, August 2013
Who wouldn’t? It’s election time again, and the National Women’s Health Network is inviting nominations for our board of directors. All NWHN members will have a chance to vote for the new board during the Spring 2014 elections. We are seeking candidates who understand and agree with the NWHN’s mission and goals and who are committed to the activist nature of the organization. We seek diversity in race, class, age, sexual identity and geographic location, and candidates who have varied skills and experiences in women’s health. All applicants must be NWHN members.
By Rachel Walden
You may have noticed last time you got a mammogram that your facility uses digital imaging rather than traditional X-ray film. Why is that? And, is there any benefit to the newer techniques?
In 2011, chef Michel Nischan started a non-profit called “Wholesome Wave,” that provides redeemable prescriptions for fresh food at New York City farmers’ markets. Nischan started the group to promote access to fresh food after helping his sons control their Type 2 diabetes through healthy diets. Participants get $1 a day for everyone in the family to use on free or low-cost produce from over 100 farmers’ markets. In the last two years, over 1/3 of participants have reduced their weight and improved their health in the process.
By Cindy Pearson
NWHN members have always cared about health care coverage. Whenever we ask our members to tell us what policy issues they want the NWHN to address, they tell us that access to health care is their #1 priority. Over the last few years, we’ve reported on our progress to build support for national health reform, and to ensure that the law is implemented in a way that meets the needs of women and their families. We’ve told you about setbacks and victories along the way – and you’ve celebrated with us when young adults were able to stay on their parents’ health insurance, when kids could no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, and when women’s preventive health services were covered without any additional fees. Those victories have already touched the lives of millions of women. And now, we’re re-doubling our effects to ensure that women know how they and the people they care about can get good coverage through the new health insurance Marketplaces. Here’s what you need to know:
By Cindy Pearson
What the heck is an estrogen-promotion article doing in the American Journal of Public Health? That’s what I asked myself a few weeks ago when the “The Mortality Toll of Estrogen Avoidance” was published in the influential periodical produced by the American Public Health Association (APHA).1 I’m always upset when I see yet another article promoting the scientifically unsound view that hormone therapy is essential for women – and that title immediately made me suspect that the article was going to contain more opinion than actual scientific fact.
By Wells Wilkinson
On August 1, 2013, a new law went into effect that’s intended to protect patients and improve the public perception of medicine and the health care system. No, it’s not the new health care system, sometimes called “Obamacare.” But it was enacted as part of health care reform. The Physician Payments Sunshine Act (PPSA), originally proposed by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ed Kohl (D-WI), is intended to disclose any conflicts of interest arising from drug and device industries’ financial relationships with, or marketing to, physicians.
By Carey Pope
This year there have been unprecedented attacks on abortion access in the states. Despite substantial public outcry, targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws have passed in Texas — after the famous, 13-hour filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis — and Ohio. Virginia's controversial TRAP law, which shuts down clinics in major urban hubs, finally took effect in July after a two-year back-and-forth between the state Board of Health and anti-choice Governor McDonnell, shutting down clinics in major urban hubs. As I write this in my home state of North Carolina, the State Senate is facing its second go-round on a bill that includes the most sweeping abortion regulations ever to be introduced here. If enacted, the law will shut all North Carolina abortion clinics but one, located in Asheville, in the far western part of the state.
At the end of August, we said goodbye to Melissa Torres-Montoya, our Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) fellow, who has been with us for a year as a core member of the NWHN team and our Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need campaign.
By Shadia J Mansour
“It was the worst two weeks of my life. If I had known what was going to happen, I would have never have had the test.” So says my mother about her experience with amniocentesis. She was 35 years old and pregnant with my youngest sibling – my sister. It was her sixth pregnancy and, despite having had three miscarriages, my mother had always enjoyed being pregnant. I grew up hearing about her pregnancies and the unique experiences she had while she was pregnant with my brother, sister, and me. I admired how strong she had been when she lost three wanted pregnancies. While each of these pregnancies came with its own challenges and joys, the time when she was tested for genetic abnormalities and the two weeks of waiting for the test results marked the only time my mother was unhappy during a pregnancy.
What's at stake? This is the question we often hear about health care coverage, drug safety, and (especially lately) safe abortion care. The answer: our lives! Thanks to our members’ generous support, the NWHN is able to work on all fronts — advocating, collaborating, and educating in order to advance women's health. Here are some highlights of our work in the last few months:
By Charlea Massion and Adriane Fugh-Berman
Does the man in your life have “Low-T” (low testosterone) Syndrome? Oh, wait; make that “the men in your life” — chances are any of the men you know over age 40 qualify for a diagnosis.
Symptoms supposedly associated with “Low-T” Syndrome are vague and overlap with symptoms of aging, like fatigue, reduced libido, and reduced body hair. Most men (and, for that matter, women) would fail the Low T self–assessment tests that are available on-line that include questions like “Do you have less energy than you did five years ago?” and “Do you ever get headaches?” and “Do you fall asleep after dinner?”
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human DNA can’t be patented in a ruling against Myriad Genetics, a bio-technology company with patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and tests for the genes. (Mutations to these genes increase the risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer.) Because Myrid claimed ownership of the genes, it could charge exorbitantly high rates for tests, and limit scientists’ access to the genes. The ruling means tests for BRCA mutations are likely to become more accessible and less expensive, and that researchers will gain better access to the genes for cancer prevention research. A win for all!