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October 17, 2008

NAPW in New York Times, Honored at Ms. Foundation Event

On Wednesday night, NAPW was recognized by the Ms. Foundation for Women, along with Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS Research and Treatment (SMART) and FIERCE, the only membership-based organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth of color in the country.

The event, co-hosted by Gloria Steinem, Caroline's comedy-club owner Caroline Hirsch and Ms. Foundation President and CEO, Sara K. Gould, was an evening of sisterly fun and celebration as prominent comedians, such as Suzanne Whang, host of HGTV's House Hunters, serving as event Emcee, Kristen Schaal, well-known "Senior" Women's Correspondent for the Daily Show, and Marina Franklin, of Chapelle's Show fame, to name a few, engaged the audience with sharp comedy smartly presented in a feminist context. "The need for humor and hope to spur us on," according to Ms. Foundation President Sara K. Gould, "has never been greater."

At the event, Ms. Gould specifically mentioned Ms. Foundation supported efforts to stop the Colorado ballot measure. This measure would amend the state constitution to include as full legal persons, "any human being from the moment of fertilization" and would give the fertilized "inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law." Two of the Ms. Foundation's granttees, NAPW and Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), have been working hard to challenge this amendment and to bring attention to the fact that,if adopted, it would not only create the basis for outlawing abortion, but would also hurt pregnant women going to term. In fact, yesterday the New York Times published a letter from NAPW explaining how Colorado, South Dakota and California's ballot measures on "abortion" are in fact assaults on the human rights of all pregnant women.

NAPW is extremely grateful for the support we receive from the Ms. Foundation and for all of the support that enables us to work at both the national and local levels to advance the interests of all pregnant women.

October 7, 2008

Honored by The National Women's Health Network: Continuing the Legacy of Activist, Barbara Seaman

Last night I had the privilege of receiving a National Women’s Health Network’s Barbara Seaman Award for Activism in Women's Health. The National Women’s Health Network created this award to honor one of their founders, Barbara Seaman. Barbara died this year after a lifetime of research, activism, courage and love. The room was filled with Barbara’s family, friends, and allies.

I never had the privilege of meeting Barbara, but knew about some of her work, including her book, The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill. This book and her activism exposed the serious health dangers posed especially by the first generation of the birth control pill. Indeed, Barbara Seaman’s work probably saved my own mother’s life.

I knew that my mother had nearly died on the pill and this past weekend I asked her to recount her experience. In about 1970, after having two children, she went on the pill. Sometime after that she began experiencing headaches so hideous that she begged my father to put her out of her misery. After this happened for the second time she went to her internist. He asked her to describe the symptoms. She explained them in detail. He listened. When she was done the doctor passed her a note. On it was the recommendation that she see a psychiatrist. Fortunately her period stopped altogether prompting her to go back to the gynecologist who had prescribed the pill. He recognized the problem immediately. She was developing a blood clot in her retinal artery. He told her if she didn’t stop taking the pill she would die.

It is very likely that he made the right diagnosis because of Barbara’s work bringing the pill’s risks to the attention of everyone, including the doctors who were so avidly and uncritically prescribing it in those days.

One of the things that is so striking and resonant about Barbara Seaman is the fact that her research exposing the risks of the pill required her to challenge not only obvious opposition – the pharmaceutical companies, but also people we would expect to be her natural allies – birth control and sex education advocates. Barbara was challenging the pill’s safety at a time when abortion was still illegal, and people were desperate for a magic bullet that would enable women to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The truth is hard sometimes.

So much of the work that National Advocates for Pregnant Women does is to challenge prevailing medical myths and junk science –whether those myths involve claims about c-sections and fetal monitors, drug use, or drug treatment. We too find that both opposition and allies sometimes find it hard to believe the scientific evidence, and the medical truths.

Barbara Seaman was of course doing much more than exposing medical risks. She was advancing the radical idea that women should be truly informed about their health and the medications they are prescribed, that doctors and elected officials should listen to the real experts on women’s health issues – the women whose health was at stake. She was working to empower women to act as their own advocates and tirelessly urging them to think critically about their health care and the latest medical miracle.

Last night I learned a lot more about Barbara Seaman. I learned about her life-long friends in the struggle for women’s rights and health, and about new younger friends who she had mentored and encouraged. I learned that she was warm, loving, and generous to her colleagues and allies, constantly making connections and building bridges across generations, ideas, and forms of activism.

It was such an honor to receive this award, and to recognize that I am part of Barbara Seaman’s legacy. My congratulations to Gina Arias, the Program Director for Empowerment and Wellness at Housing Works in Brooklyn, NY, who also won this award. My thanks to the National Women’s Health Network for the award and for all that they do – including allowing NAPW to represent them in many ongoing challenges to the use of junk science and to the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women.