Springtime: Hope Helps, But It’s Not Enough

Taken from the May/June 2013 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

In either case, I’ve been feeling both parts of the aphorism lately. I’m writing this column in the middle of an early-spring heat wave, just a few days after a Federal judge issued a ruling that’s a big win for women’s health. Hope is making me feel spring-like, and spring is making me feel hopeful about the coming year (at least so far).

In early April, the District Court of Eastern New York directed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift its ban against women under age 17 purchasing Emergency Contraception (EC) without a prescription. The FDA’s medically unjustified age restriction on over-the-counter access to EC is the result of political meddling that has lasted far too long. The political interference in science began almost a decade ago, in 2004, when the Bush Administration prevented the FDA from approving EC’s over-the-counter status.

The FDA tried to right that wrong back in 2011, when Commissioner Margaret Hamburg signaled that the agency was ready to remove the age limit. But, politics got in the way again, when the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, blocked the FDA and kept the age limit in place. If the Obama administration follows the court order, the FDA will finally do what its scientists long ago determined is right — and put EC on the drugstore shelves. No more ID checks for birth control. Makes sense, right?

Here’s where the hope comes in: the Obama administration could appeal this decision in an attempt to maintain the age limits on access to EC. It shouldn’t, and we hope it doesn’t, but we don’t know for sure what the Administration will decide to do. We knew when we celebrated the court decision that our job wasn’t over. It is possible that we will have to continue to advocate for women’s health needs to be treated respectfully, without political interference. I hope by the time you read this newsletter, the Judge’s order will have gone into effect. But, if it hasn’t, you can count on the NWHN to figure out the next steps. Setbacks don’t stop us — they just make us shift tactics!

Speaking of continuing to advocate for women’s needs, we’re starting a new feature in this issue, to give our members and other readers a glimpse into the NWHN’s day-to-day work and the variety of tactics we use to make progress on a whole host of issues.

What kind of tactics do we use? Our efforts include Citizen’s Petitions, official comments and/or testimony to government agencies, petition campaigns, behind-the-scene-meetings with important officials, and working in coalition with partners and colleagues. We use different approaches to tackle different issues. In campaigns that last for a long time, like the effort to move Emergency Contraception over-the-counter, we might use nearly all of these approaches. Take a look at “The NWHN In Action” on page 10 to see what we’ve been doing lately.

And, as always, join us in the hard but necessary work of making our voices heard where it counts: sign up to receive our e-alerts, get our Twitter feed, follow us on Facebook, see what’s caught our eye on Pinterest. Keeping our members informed about key issues in women’s health is one of our prime mechanisms for creating positive change!

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.