NWHN in Action – May/June 2017

Taken from the May/June 2017 issue of the Women’s Health Activist Newsletter.

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.

Raising Women’s Voices (RWV) for the Health Care We Need

In 2007, as the movement for health reform was gaining steam, few of the national health policy organizations leading the fight were eager to highlight women’s health issues for fear of alienating religious conservatives. RWV was formed in response in order to push back and make women’s health a centerpiece of the health reform fight. Ten years later, RWV has a hard-earned seat at the table in the fight to defend the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid in Congress and to prevent a rollback of contraceptive coverage and consumer protections by the executive branch.

Our role is bi-directional. We share strategy, talking points, and materials with our 30 regional coordinators in 28 states, and help them participate in town halls, marches, phone banks, social media campaigns, and constituent meetings with their elected officials. But we also bring these coordinators’ perspective to the national coalitions, ensuring that national messaging and strategy includes the voices of women, particularly women of color, low-income women, and members of the LGBTQ community.

Each week, RWV’s newsletter provides a rundown of what’s happening in Washington and an analysis about what it means for women. You can sign up for this newsletter through www.raisingwomensvoices.net under the “Get Connected” tab.

• Tennessee coordinator London Lamar of SisterReach speaks at the Save My Care bus tour stop in Memphis, March 2017.

• New Jersey Citizen Action holds a vigil outside the district office of member of Congress, March 2017.

Securing Sexual & Reproductive Health and Autonomy

Since our last update in January, we have continued working to change the conversation around long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as IUDs and implants. The NWHN strongly supports the development of, and access to, the full range of safe and effective contraceptives, and we advocate for the elimination of barriers that prevent women from getting LARCs. But we are also deeply concerned that institutional enthusiasm for LARCs threatens individual women’s ability to decide which methods are best for their unique circumstances.

The “Statement of Principles” that we crafted with SisterSong to guide the provision of LARCs (tinyurl.com/LARCprinciples) has continued to gain recognition, including from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the New York City Department of Public Health. We’ve been sharing the statement and teaching its principles with clinicians, advocates, and policymakers from around the country, speaking at a number of conferences and convenings, including the national Sex Education Summit, the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association’s annual conference, and the Health Care Education and Training annual meeting. And we’ve started to see a real impact from our work. After one conference, a state health department employee approached to let us know that, as a result of our presentation, the department was going to change its website to remove coercive language.

Challenging Dangerous Drugs & Devices

In February, we submitted a petition to the White House signed by close to 2,000 of our members, urging the president to nominate a commissioner for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who has with a demonstrated background in science and respect for women’s health. Our members stated, “We rely on the FDA to make evidence-based decisions about the food, drug, and medical products we use every day. We don’t want drugs and devices rushed to market that have never been proven safe or effective. And we don’t want an FDA led by a commissioner who puts industry profits above women’s health.”

In March, the White House announced the nomination of conservative physician and former Bush official Scott Gottlieb as commissioner. We believe that Dr. Gottlieb fails the test articulated by the NWHN’s members. While he is more qualified than some of the other candidates reportedly considered by the president, his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry suggest that he will be unlikely to prioritize patient health over profits. Despite false claims to the contrary from the president, the FDA is already the fastest drug regulation agency in the world. Gottlieb’s nomination signals to the pharmaceutical industry that they won’t be held accountable if they further game the system through shortcuts on patient safety studies and expanded off-label marketing. A strong regulatory process with robust and diverse clinical trials and evidence-based approval is critical to women’s health.

Sarah Christopherson, MA, is the Legislative Director for the social justice campaign, Americans for Tax Fairness, and the NWHN’s former Policy Advocacy Director. Her 10 years working for Congress and her deep knowledge of health policy and consumer protection make her the NWHN’s issue area expert on federal health reform implementation and defense, drug and device safety and efficacy, and sexual and reproductive health.

Read more from Sarah Christopherson.