Facing Whatever is Ahead of Us

By the time this column is printed, the election will be over, and we’ll know what we’re facing. As I write this, though, we don’t yet know what the results will be. Will this country elect a man who jokes about touching women without their consent, whose running mate tried to defund Planned Parenthood, and supports LGBT “conversion therapy”? Will people repudiate the positions espoused by the men at the top of the Republican ticket, but elect Senators, Representatives, and state legislators who hold similar views?

The decisions people make in the voting booth will have major implications for the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN). The new president could nominate Supreme Court justices who are opposed to abortion care – or sign an Executive Order directing all federal agencies to end the inhumane practice of shackling pregnant women. The Senate could pass legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act – or it could make the public option a reality. It all depends who was elected in November. The NWHN staff are preparing for these possibilities, and you can trust us to have solid plans to cope with the newly elected officials and their policy proposals – regardless of their positions on women’s rights.

But, many things will not change after this election, regardless of who is elected. The Food and Drug Administration will still regulate drugs and devices; the National Institutes of Health will still decide which research gets funded; Big Pharma will still invest in, and market, treatments it thinks will be profitable; corporations will still oppose public health policies that make their products unpopular; insurance companies will still expect doctors to see five patients an hour, limiting people’s access to care; and consumers will still face an onslaught of health information designed to sell rather than inform.

Sadly, the climate of fear and suspicion that portrays so many of us as dangerous — women, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, people of various faiths — won’t dissipate immediately, even when this election’s hate-filled rhetoric finally ends.

When we look ahead and take stock of what won’t change in the immediate aftermath of this election, it’s easy to see how badly the NWHN’s special brand of activism will be needed. NWHN combines staunch support for reproductive autonomy with a frank analysis of less-than-perfect technologies and practices. We work for policies that ensure everyone has access to the health care they need, and we keep a sharp eye out for exaggerated claims and false promises.

The articles in this issue of the Women’s Health Activist showcase the NWHN’s unique brand of activism. We will continue to focus on the health care women receive from providers. In “NWHN Joins Statement of Principles on LARCs,” Policy Advocacy Director Sarah Christopherson explains why NWHN is simultaneously fighting for full coverage of IUDs and implants and pressing family planning providers to commit themselves to providing such effective methods in ways that respect the rights of all women to decide if a doctor-controlled method is right for them. We know that finding a practitioner who is respectful, caring, and supportive is a crucial component of getting good health care. Former intern Emily Capilouto provides tips that have been helpful for many women in “Communicating with Your Health Care Provider.”

We will continue to consider the rights of all women within the health care system. With our partners at Our Bodies Ourselves, in “A Call to Protect the Health of Women Who Donate Their Eggs,” we explain why research on the long-term effects of egg-stimulating hormones is badly needed – both for women undergoing fertility treatment, and for women who donate eggs. After all, practitioners can’t give their patients good information if that information doesn’t exist in the first place.

We will continue to strive to enhance women’s lives as a whole, not just one part of their experience. NWHN member Barbara Gold addresses the impact of policy decisions made outside the exam room on people’s ability to follow their clinician’s advice. “Making Healthy Choices About Nutrition” addresses public policies and healthy eating habits, making it clear that it takes a lot more than just education or a doctor’s advice.

I’m on pins and needles waiting for the outcome of this election. I’m hoping for elected officials that share the NWHN’s commitment to health care for all, reproductive justice, and safe drugs and devices. But, even if the policy climate is challenging, I know there’s a lot we can do – and you can count on us to get it done.

Cindy Pearson was the NWHN’s Executive Director from 1996 to 2021. One of the nation’s leading advocates for women’s health, Cindy often testified before Congress,  NIH and the FDA and was frequently featured in the news as a consumer expert on women’s health issues. When she retired, Cindy received a Congressional Resolution in honor of her outstanding contributions to the health of women and girls.