NWHN in Action March/April 2021

Raising Women’s Voices (RWV)

With the NWHN’s assistance, Raising Women’s Voices’ (RWV) regional coordinators (RCs) worked hard to educate and mobilize health care voters in 2020. Our RCs in Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Montana, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Mississippi received extra support through RWV to help pivot their previous voter engagement tactics to virtual methods in order ensure the safety of their staff and community members in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also helped the larger movement generate hundreds of thousands of public comments opposing the Trump-Pence administration’s ongoing attacks on abortion care, immigrant access to health care, red tape and illegal benefit cuts in Medicaid, and more. In many cases, we couldn’t stop bad rules from being issued, but we did help the courts block them from going into effect until the Biden-Harris administration has a chance to reverse course.

In December 2020, we gathered with the RCs for our first-ever virtual convening. The event provided an opportunity for RCs to come together and share solidarity, energy, inspiration, and new strategies for our work to expand access to health care. The convening gave us an opportunity to take stock of our work over the past year; discuss the implications of the election, COVID-19, and racial injustice; and strategize about our work under the new administration. Our vision is of a health care system that is affordable, accessible, and culturally competent and provides high-quality and respectful care to everyone. (See page x for more about RC activities!)

Challenging Dangerous Drugs and Devices (CDDD)

The COVID-19 pandemic created an enormous public health emergency and financial crisis, which fell particularly hard on women and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. The NWHN responded to this crisis by creating a wealth of resources to help our members navigate changing public safety protocols, push for public policy change, and learn more about experimental COVID drugs and vaccines.

We testified twice before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (on October 22 and December 11) and submitted written comments to the committee (on December 17). (All three can be found at: nwhn.org/testimony.) Our comments focused on the need for robust clinical trial diversity and the unacceptable lack of safety and efficacy data for Black or Indigenous people presented by Pfizer and Moderna in their emergency use authorization requests. Both oral presentations generated earned media coverage, including a news segment on the San Francisco ABC affiliate and a quote in the New York Times. All of our COVID-related materials can be found on our COVID-19 landing page.

At the same time, we continued our fight to remove toxic ingredients and contaminants in cosmetics and other personal care products—like shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, makeup, baby powder, vaginal douches, lotion, body sprays and perfumes, hair dyes and straighteners. In 2020, we had successes in shaping and lobbying for legislation that would update the FDA’s regulation of personal care products for the first time in decades. That legislation is on track for enactment in 2021. We also successfully pressured Johnson & Johnson to discontinue domestic sales of its talc-based Baby Powder, which has been linked to reproductive health cancers, and led the coalition calling on the company to discontinue international sales as well. (The product is still available internationally.)

Securing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Autonomy (SRH)

Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 outbreak impacted every part of our work. When the FDA refused to suspend in-person requirements during the pandemic for medication abortion, aka the abortion pill — treating it differently from all of the other drugs the agency regulates — we sprang into action. We launched our #MailTheAbortionPill campaign to eliminate politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions on mifepristone, one of two FDA-approved medications that are 99 percent effective when taken in tandem.

The FDA has encouraged patients to use telehealth appointments and online pharmacies for routine medical care during the COVID-19 outbreak without having to leave their homes. For most pregnant people seeking safe and effective FDA-approved abortion pills during the pandemic, however, the FDA still requires them to pick up mifepristone from designated clinics and doctors’ offices in person — even though every other part of the process, including the abortion itself, can occur at home.

For too long, these onerous requirements have harmed patients’ health by delaying or blocking access to medication abortion. Now, in the midst of a public health emergency, these requirements further endanger patients and strain the health system.

As part of our campaign, we collected more than 12,000 signatures on a petition urging the agency to lift restrictions on mifepristone, and we physically delivered them at a socially distanced protest outside the agency, We also helped members of Congress send a letter to the FDA, signed by 109 House members, calling for the agency to act; developed a DC-influencer campaign that “took over” the Washington Post’s Health 202 newsletter with our medication abortion ads for 10 days; and spoke to the press about both the NWHN’s work in getting mifepristone approved in 2000 and the FDA’s long history of imposing restrictions on mifepristone access out of fear of anti-abortion politicians and violence. Read about all of our actions and resources here.

Sarah Christopherson is the NWHN’s Policy Advocacy Director