Hundreds advocate for international family planning on Capitol Hill

By Lauren Salmiery

200 students, activists, and Population Connection and Population Connection Action Fund supporters joined Capitol Hill Days 2016 this past weekend to advocate for accessible family planning for women around the world.

Brought together by their collective passion for reproductive health and rights, participants at the annual event came from 26 states plus the District of Columbia, and represented 75 congressional districts. They held 133 meetings with the offices of their senators and representatives to urge them to increase U.S. investment in global family planning and oppose a reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule.

At Monday’s lobby day, the nearly 50 advocates from Ohio couldn’t fit into Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office, so they conducted their spirited meeting in the hallway of the Hart Senate Office Building. Rookie activists who’d never interacted with their elected officials before bravely talked to their members of Congress alongside seasoned pros who’ve been attending Capitol Hill Days for 20 years.

In addition to meeting with their representatives, Capitol Hill Days attendees learned more about international reproductive health and rights, networked with activists from across the country, and gained important advocacy skills.

On Friday, participants attended an award ceremony and reception to honor Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada with Population Connection Action Fund’s second annual Empower Her, Empower Humanity Award. Sen. Reid was celebrated for his continuous support for women’s rights and access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, and, specifically, for his sponsorship of a bill to provide contraceptives to low-income women in the United States. Sen. Reid has long been a staunch supporter of funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Planned Parenthood, and we thank him on behalf of women and families everywhere.

Capitol Hill Days participants attended sessions facilitated by prominent speakers and activists working on reproductive rights issues on Saturday. Yazidi-American activist Laila Khoudeida, the co-founder of Yazda, and human rights activist Lisa Shannon, the founder of Sister Somalia and Run for Congo Women, discussed the impact of the Helms amendment and U.S. foreign policy on refugee communities from Iraq to Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Laila and Lisa argued that we must stand with women who are fighting for their rights despite war, political instability, and poor or nonexistent reproductive healthcare and rights around the world.

Diana Whitten, director and producer of the film Vessel, discussed her journey around the world while following doctor and human rights activist Rebecca Gomperts. Dr. Gomperts works to increase access to medication abortion in countries where it is illegal by providing care on a ship docked in international waters. Through analyzing portions of her film, Diana helped advocates understand the global struggle for abortion access and reproductive rights as told by women who fight for basic healthcare every day.

Capitol Hill Days 2016
Capitol Hill Days 2016

In another session, Robert Engelman, Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, discussed the impact of the world’s increasing population on environmental security. Bob explored the importance of contraceptive access to slowing climate change and protecting natural resources. Through increased access to contraception, women are empowered to make their own choices, take control of the timing and frequency of their pregnancies, and reach their full potential, he argued.

Amy Dickson, Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (and Population Connection board member), offered her insight on the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic and the restrictive anti-choice laws sweeping the United States. Amy’s solidarity with victims of the attack and women who are oppressed by restrictive laws empowered the crowd to stand up for reproductive health at home.

At Capitol Hill Days 2016, participants experienced lobbying on Capitol Hill, learned about reproductive health issues, and had the opportunity to realize the power of their own voices to bring change and contribute to democracy. Most importantly, they used these voices to call for reproductive rights and health for women everywhere.

Watch this short video to hear about their experiences firsthand!

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