2020: COVID-19 Information
Armed the public with accurate, up-to-date information on the COVID-19 pandemic as information emerged about transmission, symptoms, and protective measures. We were one of the first organizations to:
- Analyze the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color
- Call for equitable access to PPE, paid leave, and respectful treatment
The NWHN also analyzed vaccine safety information and produced widely quoted critiques of the failure to include enough Black and Indigenous volunteers.
2020: #MailTheAbortionPill campaign
Launched the #MailTheAbortionPill campaign urging the FDA to lift its restrictions on mifepristone (the abortion pill) and allow clinicians to provide it to their patients through the mail and retail pharmacies. As part of this campaign, the NWHN:
- Organized 83 organizations in a unified call for change
- Drafted a letter for Congressional allies to the FDA imploring them to act; educated members of Congress and staff, and helped garner support from 109 members of Congress
- Collected over 12,000 signatures on our petition to the FDA, and held a public protest at FDA headquarters when the Commissioner wouldn’t meet to discuss the issue
- Educated the incoming Biden-Harris administration about this issue and how they could take evidence-based steps to quickly right this wrong
2020: Stopped the selling of toxic baby powder
Forced Johnson & Johnson to stop selling hazardous talc-based baby powder in North America using grassroots advocacy tactics and by pushing for greater Congressional oversight. We also co-led an open letter with Black Women for Wellness condemning J&J’s decision to continue selling baby powder outside of North America.
2019: Spoke out against Natural Cycles, a fertility awareness app dubiously claiming to be as “effective as the Pill.”
Although this app was cleared by the FDA, the FDA’s strong warning language about the app raises questions about the role politics may have played in this decision. The NWHN produces, hosts, and updates the most comprehensive informational materials available online about this app, warning the public about the limitations, comparative ineffectiveness, privacy vulnerabilities, and potential for abuse of contraceptive apps. Read Factsheet
2019: Expanded fight for safe personal care products
Kicked the fight for safe personal care products into high gear by expanding our earlier work on the issue into a full-fledged advocacy campaign. Toxic ingredients in makeup, hair dyes, baby powder, and other personal care products have been linked to numerous health problems — and Black women bear the brunt of the burden. But current federal law hobbles FDA oversight. To push for correction of this egregious negligence, the NWHN lobbied and educated members of congress, helped the House draft marquee legislation, and organized dozens of reproductive justice organizations to rally around this issue. These efforts paid off; Congress had a historic committee hearing where we testified, and is on the brink of passing corrective legislation. Further, Good Morning America, ABC News, and other news outlets widely covered our work.
2019: Helped save health care for thousands
Our Dying from Red Tape campaign helped save health care for thousands by opposing “work requirements”, another one of Trump’s strategies to take people’s health care away. We assisted our state partners in gathering real-life stories to support legal challenges that were ultimately successful, blocking implementation of work requirements in all but one state.
2019: Activist Guide for patient autonomy
Protected patient autonomy over their birth control by creating a guide for state activists in partnership with the National Institute for Reproductive Health. The guide helped activists protect and advocate for patient autonomy as more states and private foundations created IUD-only programs. Our state and local partners in more than a dozen states used the guide in trainings for their staff.
2018: Saved the FDA Office of Women’s Health (OWH)
When the then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tried to defund the FDA Office of Women’s Health (OWH), the NWHN steped in to stop it. The NWHN helped organize a successful lightning-speed advocacy campaign to save the OWH, and Gottlieb was forced to back down within a week.
2018: Resisted a pharmaceutical company’s efforts to silence our warnings to women about their ineffective and potentially dangerous product.
In the fall of 2018, the makers of flibanserin (brand name: Addyi) threatened to take legal action against the NWHN unless we removed all Addyi-related materials from our website. We told them that legal threats wouldn’t stop us from providing accurate information about their product.
2017: Launched an all-hands-on-deck defense of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid in the face of sustained attacks by the GOP
We were instrumental in helping to defeat multiple Trumpcare proposals by bringing the voices of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people to the national debate. We kept this issue in the public consciousness all year by crafting compelling social media campaigns, talking points, and by consistently reaching out to the media. We published an op-ed in Rewire cautioning about the return of rape and domestic violence as pre-existing conditions under the GOP proposals. We also empowered grassroots activists by calling on our regional coordinator (RC) network to elevate their voices.
2017: Strengthened the capacity of people of color-led groups
We provided technical assistance for organizational development through the Working Against the Grain project for people of color-led groups. The Afiya Center in Texas and Trans Queer Pueblo in Arizona were standout successes. As a result of their increased organizational capacity supported by RWV co-founder Byllye Avery and NWHN staff, the groups started new programs to address the health needs of immigrants, strengthened state-wide organizing, and secured a policy win for Black mothers.
2016: Co-created a statement of principles to guide the provision of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) in partnership with the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective
The statement was drafted with input from multiple reproductive justice groups and was signed by over a hundred organizations. We also led multiple trainings for providers, policymakers, and activists around the country. Since its inception, the LARC statement of principles has helped providers and funders keep patient autonomy front and center and protect patients from coercive practices. Multiple providers and public health departments changed their provision of care in direct response to our work.
2016: Developed a community organizing toolkit to help our coordinators push for Medicaid expansion in the 19 states that had not yet closed their health care coverage gap for low-income adults
Our efforts contributed to expansion in Louisiana, and to the increase in public pressure for expansion in Georgia, Maine, and elsewhere. And to make sure that Medicaid coverage truly meets women’s needs, we helped activists educate policymakers with our Women’s Health and Medicaid Waivers research brief. View Toolkit
2015: Affordable Care Act coverage
Since the establishment of the Affordable Care Act in 2013, a victory the NWHN had a large hand in securing, more than 6.3 million people gained coverage through private marketplace plans and millions more are covered through expanded Medicaid. Insurance rates were the lowest they had been in a generation, and all plans must cover women’s health needs, including screening tests, family planning and childbirth. No more treating women as pre-existing conditions.
2015: Raising Women's Voices health literacy guide
Distributed RWV’s health literacy guide, “My Health, My Voice: A Woman’s Step-by-Step Guide to Using Health Insurance,” to dozens of organizations serving thousands of people Later, we translated the guide into Spanish. “Mi Salud, Mi Voz: Una Guía Paso a Paso Para Mujeres Sobre Cómo Usar el Seguro Médico” is freely available online to help as many people as possible.
2014: Pushed for more availability of drug safety information
The NWHN’s multi-year campaign for more public disclosure of drug safety information yielded an important result: The FDA publishes first-ever information on women and people of color in clinical trials of new drugs in its Drug Trials Snapshots webpage. This new tool means more women can make more informed decisions about the drugs and products they use.
2014: Championed women- and LGBTQ-friendly model policies for the new ACA marketplaces
We advocated for policies requiring that providers cover gender-affirming and contraceptive care. To make sure that individual states actually implemented these rules, RWV sponsored secret shopper studies. Our coordinator in Maryland documented that only 22% of listed ObGyns were able to provide care up to the new standard within 4 weeks. They shared these findings with compliance officials, which led to tougher enforcement by the state. The NWHN went on to fight against the Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle these protections and to allow hospitals and health care workers to discriminate against LGBTQ folks and people seeking abortion care.
2013: Helped millions of women avoid rare fractures caused by bisphosphonates
We persuaded the FDA to limit the use of bisphosphonates, which caused previously rare fractures for women with long-term use of osteoporosis drugs. Unnecessary use of these drugs by healthy women also dropped due in part to our advocacy and education campaigns.
2012: Helped women get contraceptive coverage without copays
Thanks to sustained advocacy efforts by NWHN’s collaborative project Raising Women’s Voices, the first wave of women got contraceptive coverage without copays in August. Despite opposition, eventually more than 60 million women were able to choose the contraceptive method best for them without worrying about expense.
2012: Received the Grassroots Activism Award from the National Breast Cancer Coalition
This award was in recognition of the NWHN’s campaign to educate women about the risks associated with menopause HT, which led to the largest-ever drop in breast cancer rates. More than 126,000 women did not get breast cancer over the last 10 years because the NWHN helped them avoid exposure to the drugs that would have caused it.
2011: Challenged the narrative that “healthy = skinny”
The NWHN challenged this narrative by critiquing the growing number of companies seeking FDA approval for weight loss products on the basis of vague promises of “health improvement.” Pressed the FDA to hold these companies to stricter burdens of proof and encouraged the agency to acknowledge that health is possible at all sizes.
2010: Played a central role in shaping the provisions of the Affordable Care Act
The NWHN played a central role in shaping the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that address women’s health care concerns, including making basic care available to all women, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression, or pregnancy status.
2009: Exposed pharmaceutical manufacturer's funding of distorted information
Exposed pharmaceutical manufacturer Wyeth’s funding of Continuing Medical Education (CME) programs that presented distorted information about the safety and effectiveness of menopause hormone therapy.
2008: Worked with activists to highlight women's health care experiences
Grounded policy advocacy efforts in women’s personal health care experiences with more than 200 activists at our Hear Us Now! conference. Provided a platform for unheard voices in the health reform debate, and began working with grassroots regional coordinators, eventually expanding to more than 25 states.
2007: Co-founded Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need
RWV is a national collaborative that supports quality affordable health care for all. We also held its first public activities, a series of highly popular and successful webinars. These webinars built the policy reform capacity of the women’s health community and relayed practical tips, tools, and training for effective engagement in the on-going policy debates.
2006: Helped to push the FDA to make emergency contraception available over the counter to women 18+
Rejoiced when the FDA finally agreed to make emergency contraception available over the counter to women 18 and older, a hard-won victory we helped win. The NWHN kept fighting the medically unjustified age restriction until it was finally removed in 2013.
2005: Advanced state efforts to provide health care coverage as a founding member of the Maryland Women’s Coalition for Health Care Reform
The coalition was one of the first lay women’s groups to conduct advocacy for health care reform at the state level, and acted as a flagship model for others.
2004: Persuaded several condom manufacturers to stop producing condoms coated with the spermicide nonoxynol-9
Research showed that nonoxynol-9 may increase risk of HIV infection when used rectally, and there was a lack of evidence that condoms treated with it offered any additional protection against pregnancy.
2004: Brought activists, historians, and leaders together
We brought together activists, historians, and leaders with expertise in health access for “Universal Access: Igniting Our Vision, Setting Our Course,” launching a decade-plus of sustained activism on health care for all.
2003: Critiqued the medicalization of women’s sexuality at physicians' debate
We presented a critique of the medicalization of women’s sexuality at a debate attended by more than 1,000 physicians', and continued to be a forceful voice for a holistic approach to women’s sexual concerns.
2002: The NWHN was proven right on Hormone Therapy (HT)
After the NWHN’s many years of cautioning against enthusiasm for the long-term use of menopause HT, the Women’s Health Initiative results showed that HT does not prevent heart disease, increase energy, prevent memory loss, improve mood, or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the results showed that HT increases the risk of stroke and in some cases, breast cancer.
2002: Fought against Big Pharma's attempt to put a dangerous "female Viagra" on the market
The FDA required more safety study on the testosterone patch after the NWHN testified against approving testosterone as a sex drug for women. The manufacturer gave up rather than do a large safety study.
2002: Led the successful opposition to a noted anti-choice activist being appointed as head of the FDA’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee
Within weeks, the NWHN members generated thousands of letters to the White House, Dr. Hager (a noted anti-choice activist) withdrew, and a woman with solid scientific credentials was made the head of the committee.
2001: Built support for development of microbicides so women can protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases including HIV
Although this medical advance still eludes us, we helped the world understand that HIV affects women too. Our agitation also sparked a global movement to make drug trial designs safe and ethical for all.
2000: Persuaded the FDA to approve the abortion pill
The NWHN finally persuaded the FDA to approve the abortion pill (mifepristone) after a decade-long advocacy campaign to overcome political opposition to this safe form of abortion care.
1999: The NWHN launched its first website
This was and continues to be one of the only websites online offering independent information on women’s health and related advocacy to consumers and providers across the country.
1998: Successfully countered misleading claims that women could safely prevent breast cancer by using a common breast cancer treatment
We were able to show that using this treatment preventatively put women at risk of severe side effects such as uterine cancer and blood clots that often outweighed the benefits. Our views were widely covered, including on Good Morning America, and resulted in the appropriate use of the drug by a relatively small group of very high-risk women.
1997: Successfully pressured the FDA to require doctors not to use risky pre-term labor drugs
Protected pregnant women from the risk of heart damage and sudden death by successfully pressing the FDA to require doctors not to use risky pre-term labor drugs outside the hospital. We were sued by the manufacturer of one of these drugs for our trouble, but were successfully defended by the ACLU.
1996: Distributed fact sheets about the disparities in survival experienced by women of color
Highlighted the disparities in survival experienced by women of color by distributing the first-ever fact sheets on breast cancer and African American, Latina, Native American and Asian American women. Our efforts built considerable momentum for targeted outreach programs.
1995: Celebrated domestic violence being recognized as a public health issue
We celebrated when domestic violence was widely recognized as a public health issue and incorporated into the training of health professionals, thanks in large part to the NWHN’s advocacy efforts.
1994: Fought "public service" ads claiming that abortion caused breast cancer
Our education campaign, “Abortion and Breast Cancer: Get the Facts,” and scientific review of the data presented in “Abortion and Breast Cancer: The Unproven Link,” galvanized the opposition and resulted in the ads being pulled.
1994: Persuaded the NIH to fund the only multi-ethnic long-term study of the menopause transition in healthy women
The Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN) enrolled more than 3,000 women, and has resulted in nearly 500 publications providing essential information enabling women and their doctors to understand what is normal, and how that’s different across race and ethnicity.
1993: National Action Plan on Breast Cancer
Joined forces with hundreds of groups to push for advocate involvement in breast cancer research, leading to the National Action Plan on Breast Cancer and greater emphasis on the environmental links to breast cancer.
1992: Persuaded the FDA to require studies on the safety of breast implants after decades of these implants being on the market
18 years later, studies finally document Breast Implant Illness, validating women’s reports of autoimmune conditions associated with silicone gel-filled implants.
1992: Prompted Congress to investigate the lack of informed consent in trials of a breast cancer treatment drug given to healthy women
The hearing, “Scientific Misconduct in Breast Cancer Research trials,” caused the National Institute of Health to revise their informed consent rules for government-funded clinical trials. This ensured that volunteers going forward would be given complete information about any serious and potentially fatal risks associated with study drugs.
1991: Persuaded the U.S. government to launch and fund the largest-ever study on the health of older women, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI)
The WHI enrolled more than 27,000 women in clinical trials of menopause hormone therapy, which led to stunning results in 2002. The results showed that HT does not prevent heart disease or Alzheimer’s and increases the risk of blood clots, and in some cases, breast cancer.
1990: Stopped the FDA from recklessly approving menopause hormone therapy for the prevention of heart disease
We also demanded that the FDA require evidence from placebo-controlled trials, as it had for all drugs approved for prevention in men (including baby aspirin!). As we feared, the subsequent evidence showed that HT did not work as advertised, and could in fact increase risk for blood clots and stroke.
1990: Successfully petitioned the government to fund the WomenCARE breast cancer study
The study included more African American women than any previous study of its kind. The study later found that long-term use of the pill does not increase the risk of breast cancer.
1989: Distributed AIDS brochure
Exploded the myth that women are at low risk of HIV infection by distributing hundreds of thousands of copies of our brochure, "AIDS: What Every Woman Needs to Know."
1988: Convinced the NIH to fund a study of the cervical cap, a safe and effective non-hormonal contraceptive
The NWHN also persuaded the FDA to allow feminist clinics and individual practitioners to offer the cap safely during the study period.
1987: Successfully convinced the National Cancer Institute to fund the Dietary Modification Trial
The Dietary Modification Trial was the very first breast cancer prevention trial to examine the effect of a low-fat diet on breast cancer. Our grassroots campaign garnered widespread media and Congressional attention, and 48,835 women eventually volunteered for the 8-year-long trial.
1986: Initiated the Breast Cancer Campaign to evaluate and strengthen standards of care in breast cancer screening clinics
After hearing testimony about the results of our survey, Congress required Medicare to cover mammography screenings.
1985: Exposed shady drug company funding behind an osteoporosis public education campaign
The campaign was sponsored by a national nurses' professional association, but was in fact scripted by the drug company’s PR firm.
1984: Drafted the first model legislation to guarantee patient access to medical records
This legislation was ultimately established as a federal right in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.
1983: Sponsored the first national conference on Black women’s health
Led by board member Byllye Avery, the NWHN sponsored the first national conference on Black women’s health. This conference led to the founding of the National Black Women’s Health Project, now the Black Women’s Health Imperative.
1982: Helped women avoid deadly toxic shock syndrome by using media to reach women with information about how to recognize & avoid highly absorbent tampons
Appointed to the FDA’s Tampon Standards Committee which eventually led to safer products with standardized labels.
1981: Hosted the “Appalachian Pathways Conference: Moving Forward in Women’s Health” in Hindman, Kentucky
Later, the NWHN followed up with funding for 13 health groups in Appalachia working on issues like nutrition and exercise, the health of older women, and the establishment of a communications network for midwives.
1981: Sued the Dalkon Shield IUD manufacturer and filed a Citizen Petition that eventually led to a worldwide recall
As these policy initiatives progressed, the NWHN put the word out to women and health workers at home and abroad to stop using the dangerous device.
1981: Published “How Safe Is Safe?” an exposé of the widespread practice of giving potentially unsafe drugs to women giving birth
The exposé sparked Congressional hearings and enabled pregnant women to make more informed decisions about their obstetric care.
1980: Created an internship program to promote young women’s leadership
More than 300 women and one man participated in the program (now known as the Helen Rodriguez-Trias Leadership Development Program), which now receives continuous support via an endowed gift in remembrance of Eunice Corfman.
1979: Assisted women who suffered complications from Depo Provera, a then-experimental drug, by establishing the National Depo Provera Registry
The NWHN’s efforts ultimately led to several large studies that provided more certainty about the benefits and risks of the contraceptive, which was approved in 2004.
1978: Supported Latina-led groups and other grassroots activists in NYC in the fight against sterilization abuse
We supported these groups and activists via policy advocacy and direct action, including a mother and baby sit-in at HHS. The NWHN was one of the few national women’s organizations at the time to support sterilization abuse regulations.
1978: Adopted "clean hands" policies
Adopted the policy not to seek or accept funding from drug companies, medical device manufacturers, other organized medicine groups, which continues to this day.
1977: Victory on the estrogen front!
After years of pressure from the NWHN’s founders, the FDA issued a final regulation requiring manufacturers to print and pharmacists to distribute patient package inserts for estrogens that clearly delineated the risks and benefits.
1976: Released the inaugural issue of a bimonthly newsletter and announced an information clearinghouse on women’s health issues
The clearinghouse provided in-depth information packets on more than 80 topics to hundreds of thousands of people for more than 30 years before the NWHN switched over to digital methods of information distribution.
1975: The NWHN launched into public action on December 16th by hosting a memorial service in front of the FDA
The service recognized the lives of women unnecessarily lost because they didn’t have the information they needed to identify complications caused by the pill and menopause hormone therapy. The memorial inspired policy change at the FDA as well as waves of direct action by later generations of patient activists, including people living with HIV.
The Women That Started It All
The NWHN was started because a small group of visionary women knew that we all deserved better. They recognized the need for an “action arm” of the women’s health movement. They insisted women be given a seat at the policy tables in Washington D.C., and dedicated their professional lives to building the capacity of all women to be change agents for women’s health. Read on for their incredible stories:
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