Founded in 1975 by Phyllis Chesler, Belita Cowan, Mary Howell, Barbara Seaman, and Alice Wolfson, the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) is a nonprofit, membership-based organization that claims 8,000 individual and group members across the United States. Originally named the Women’s Health Lobby, NWHN’s stated mission is to “[improve] the health of all women by developing and promoting a critical analysis of health issues in order to affect policy and support consumer decision-making.”
NWHN currently focuses its lobbying efforts on six major issue categories pertaining to women’s health: (a) breast cancer; (b) health care and welfare reform; (c) HIV/AIDS and women; (d) menopause, osteoporosis, and hormone replacement therapy; (e) abortion rights; and (f) safe drugs and medical devices.
NWHN supports the development of what it calls “a health care system that is guided by social justice…” The organization advocates a universal system of socialized medicine whereby a government agency would have ultimate authority over all medical services administered in the United States. NWHN also opposes any reforms in Medicaid, which it identifies as a women’s issue because “women make up almost 71% of Medicaid beneficiaries over the age of 18.”
A member group of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, NWHN produces numerous publications and fact sheets about women’s health-related issues — including, among others, abortion, breast implants, breast and cervical cancer, contraception, hormone therapy, menopause, and heart disease. NWHN also publishes a bi-monthly newsletter called The Women’s Health Advocate, which deals not only with health issues but also with social and political matters. Among the titles of past Advocate features are: “Militarism and Women’s Health”; “Abstinence-Only Sex Education”; “Young Women of Color and Reproductive Rights”; “The Politicization of Science”; “The Feminization of HIV/AIDS”; and “Native American Women and Abortion Rights.”
Membership in NWHN costs $25 per year for an individual (but only $15 for students and low-income members). NWHN also solicits donations (which are tax-deductible) from the general public and encourages prospective donors to participate in payroll deduction programs whereby their regular contributions can be diverted from their paychecks directly to NWHN.
In 2003, NWHN’s revenues were $742,782. Of this total, $370,255 were derived from membership dues, and $333,164 from foundations (the remaining $39,383 came from other miscellaneous sources). Among NWHN’s foundation donors are: the Brownington Foundation; the Clarence B. & Joan F. Coleman Charitable Foundation; the Common Benefit Trust; the Compton Foundation; the Enivar Charitable Fund; the Ford Foundation; the Gaea Foundation; the General Service Foundation; the Gralla Family Philanthropic Fund; the Helena Rubenstein Foundation; the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation; the Jewish Community Endowment Fund; the Jones Family Fund; the Joyce & Irving Goldman Family Foundation; the Moriah Fund; the Public Welfare Foundation; the Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Roots & Wings Fund of Astraea Foundation; the Saint Louis Community Foundation; the Tides Foundation; the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program; and the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation.
NWHN’s current Executive Director is Cynthia Pearson, who has worked at the Network since 1987. She is a past recipient of the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers’ Margaret Sanger Award. NWHN’s Program and Policy Director, Amy Allina, is a stern critic of abstinence-only education programs in the schools and claims that politics, profit motives, and religion have a distorting effect on sexuality research. Regarding religious influences in particular, Allina derides what she calls the “Jesusland” effect on research pertaining to women’s health.