The HHS headquarters are very close to Congress and the National Mall, so it feels special to go there. But, going to the White House was a real treat! It was the first time I’d been invited to a holiday party at the White House – and I wasn’t disappointed. The White House was beautifully decorated, the food was delicious, and the band was great — all in all, it was an experience I won’t soon forget.
But, I went to these holiday parties to work as well as to enjoy myself, and I attended both events with a well-rehearsed plan for what I would say to an important official if I got the opportunity.
I did get the chance to shake hands with President Obama and to say a heartfelt “thank you” for health care reform. So many people were clamoring for his attention that I didn’t have time to say any more, however. So no advocacy message to President Obama – this time! I was ready to ask him to reconsider his position on Emergency Contraception (EC). (Learn more about our concerns here.)
Secretary Sebelius had a little more time to talk with guests at the HHS party, so she got to hear my ask on women’s health advocacy. After thanking her for standing strong on ensuring access to contraception in the health care law’s implementation, I expressed our desire to work with her to remove the unjustified proof-of-age requirement on over-the-counter Emergency Contraception as well.
Secretary Sebelius graciously acknowledged my praise for her insistence that insurance companies cover contraception with no extra fees, and told me that she realized how important contraception is to women. Then, she adroitly avoided responding to my comment about Emergency Contraception. I was a little disappointed that the Secretary wasn’t willing to talk about righting the wrong of limiting purchase of over-the-counter EC to women who can show government-issued ID — a requirement that blocks access for women of all ages — but I know she heard our message.
I might not be Secretary Sebelius’ idea of a fun party guest, but I know I wasn’t invited to the White House or to the HHS party just because I’m a likeable person. I was invited because I represent thousands of individuals all across the country who care about women’s health, and who count on government officials to adopt policies that support the health of all people, including women: women who use contraception, women who can’t afford the high cost of private insurance, women who can’t marry their partners, women who are newcomers to this country and women who need an abortion — just to name a few.
So, I’ll keep asking Secretary Sebelius to do the right thing on EC, and to put in place other policies important to women. And, whenever we get the chance, Network staff and our partners will be advocating for women’s health care needs. I left the holiday parties thinking that we have a lot to be thankful for as 2012 comes to an end – and a lot to work on in 2013. With your help, I’m sure we can do it. Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year!
Cindy Pearson is the NWHN's Executive Director.