NWHN Executive Director Cindy Pearson speaks in support of the ACA’s contraceptive coverage mandate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., March 2016 (photo credit NWHN)

Improving women’s health by advocating for policy change

We know that good policy can make a difference in women’s lives. It can improve access and make health care services available to women who previously couldn’t afford to see a doctor.

Good policy can open doors to careers in health professions that were previously undervalued, like midwifery, or predominantly male, like surgery. Good policy can protect women from unnecessary harm by making drugs and medical devices safer, and including women in research and clinical trials. It can reduce barriers by putting safe health tools in women’s hands, like by making pregnancy tests and emergency contraception available over-the-counter.

Since its beginning, the NWHN has affected women’s health policy in all these ways and more. Our core strategic approach is to analyze important health issues and share our take on those issues in ways that catalyze grassroots action.

We are feminist health activists who use policy analysis as a tool for change. We use the avenues of input that are open to us – sometimes on the streets, more often in government offices – to bring the voice of people concerned about women’s health to decision-makers who create and implement health policies.


Our three campaigns:

RWV’s annual convening of regional coordinators in Washington, D.C., December 2016 (photo credit James R. Brantley)

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

Co-founded in 2007 by the NWHN, activist Byllye Avery, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, and the Women’s Health Program of Community Catalyst (formerly MergerWatch), Raising Women’s Voices is a national initiative working to ensure that women’s voices are heard and women’s concerns are addressed in the fight for universal health coverage.

RWV has a special mission of engaging women who are not often invited into health policy discussions, including women of color, low income women, immigrant women, young women, women with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community.

The NWHN’s advocacy priorities through RWV include:

  • Defending and strengthening Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act
  • Expanding Medicaid to ensure that low-income women and their families have affordable insurance options, regardless of where they live
  • Ensuring that health insurance marketplaces engage women as stakeholders; offer plans that cover comprehensive care, including reproductive health care; and actively work to reduce health disparities
  • Ensuring that health insurance outreach and enrollment reaches diverse women and families in culturally and linguistically competent ways, are user-friendly, and help women find affordable health policies that meet their health needs
  • Building support for policies that advance health equity and address the affordability and accessibility barriers that affect women, immigrants, communities of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities.

Visit the RWV website for more information and to sign up for our weekly newsletter.



Challenging Dangerous Drugs and Devices (CDDD)

Women face health risks from drugs, medical devices, and medical treatments that are unproven, unsafe, ineffective, or unnecessary for their specific situation. Too often, these products are promoted by drug- and device-makers hoping to make big profits by capitalizing on the over-medicalization of women’s health. Through our CDDD campaign, we advocate for rigorous approval standards and long-term evidence of safety, work to prevent FDA approval of unsafe and unproven medical products, help ensure that women have complete and accurate information about the health products and services marketed to them, and push for the representation of diverse women in clinical trials.

Examples of our past and present policy advocacy work include:


Securing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Autonomy (SRH)

Women need access to comprehensive safe and effective reproductive health technologies, services, and information without restrictions driven by ideology. Through our SRH campaign, we defend women’s sexual and reproductive health and autonomy against anti-choice threats that seek to undermine access to contraception and abortion care.  We also promote access to unbiased, accurate information about how women can protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). We are committed to creating the world where people no longer experience obstacles in obtaining the reproductive and sexual health care that is right for them. We are passionate about gender equity and expanding health care to vulnerable populations, including women of color, young women, poor women, and LGBTQ people.

Examples of our past and present policy advocacy work include:

  • Expanding and protecting coverage for abortion care services in public and private health insurance
  • Ensuring women’s access to safe and effective medication abortion by defending against attacks on science and women’s health, and by supporting women who want to use pills on their own to end a pregnancy
  • Challenging efforts to direct women toward any particular contraceptive method and ensuring that people are provided comprehensive, scientifically accurate information about their full range of contraceptive options
  • Establishing over-the-counter access to affordable oral contraception and emergency contraception without medically unjustified age restrictions
  • Promoting evidence-based information about the safety and effectiveness of internal (female) condoms in the United States


For fact sheets on these and other policy advocacy issues, visit our Advocacy Fact Sheets. And to stay up-to-date on our current work on all three campaigns, check out our NWHN in Action updates.


Find out how you can be involved in changing conversations about women’s health by joining the NWHN and following us on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.