Politics & Women’s Health: Navigating the Year Ahead

Taken from the January/February 2012 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

Last fall, we thought we were on our way to a long-anticipated destination: the end of unjustified age restrictions on over-the-counter access to Emergency Contraception (EC). Then, a big "storm" blew through D.C. and, when it was over, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to remove the age limit had been overruled and our arrival at our desired destination delayed, once again.

When we suffer through bad weather, we’re usually able to repair any damage and put things back in order pretty quickly. But, the damage done to women’s health and lives resulting from stormy politics can’t always be put right after the fact. NWHN will do its best to ensure that women eventually get full over-the-counter access to EC. Sadly, in the meantime, as long as EC remains behind the counter, available only in certain stores and at certain hours, some women who need EC won’t be able to get access to it in time for it to work.  For those women, a safe opportunity to prevent an unintended pregnancy will be lost.

Since I have weather on my mind, I’ve also been thinking about the New Year in terms of weather; 2012 looks like it’s going to be a very stormy election year. The crowded Republican nomination field has given more power to the most conservative voters. The candidates have responded to these likely voters by attacking women’s reproductive health, including Federal funding for birth control services, the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, abortion, and comprehensive sexuality education. Fear of a mobilized conservative voting bloc seems to be pushing the Administration, which is generally supportive of women’s reproductive health services, into decisions it hopes will appease their opponents.

We’ve been repeatedly blown off-course by wildly inaccurate statements about women’s health, attacks on critical programs, and political trade-offs that use women’s rights as bargaining chips.

How do we navigate the year ahead? We must take the same steps to prevent advocacy efforts on behalf of women’s health from being blown off-course as we do when we’re trying to stay on course in a blustery storm. In a storm, we hang on to stable surfaces as we move from one place to another as the winds blow. In 2012, the stable surfaces we must hang onto are our precious advocacy organizations — the NWHN, of course, among many others. And, we need to ensure that, as we move from one place to another (from one issue to another), the spaces between stable surfaces are as small as possible.  We can navigate 2012 if we weave a web of connections between issues that keeps us safe no matter how fiercely the winds blow.

To strengthen connections among women’s rights supporters, NWHN has joined HERvotes, a new coalition of over 30 national organizations on the forefront of women’s equity issues, including groups representing women of color, faith-based organizations groups, and women labor leaders. Members include long-standing groups, like the 130-year-old American Association of University Women (AAUW), and relatively new organizations like the five-year-old MomsRising. Some HERvotes members will conduct on-the-ground voter mobilization in 2012 — all have committed significant staff time to educating women about the issues at stake in the election. Learn more about NWHN’s work with HERvotes on our website (www.nwhn.org).

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.

Read more from Cindy Pearson.