Making the case for sound sexual health policy
Health policy—laws, regulations, and guidelines—help shape public health and have a significant impact on our lives. From seat belt laws, to regulations on tobacco use, to vaccine recommendations, health policy can improve public health, prevent disease and contribute to a healthier society.
ASHA works with partners in health policy to educate policy makers about the urgency of sexual health, the need for additional research, and the importance of frontline support for sexual health programs in our communities.
You can help ASHA make the case for sound sexual health policy by contacting your elected officials. Legislators listen to their constituents. Legislators are very interested in effectively articulated concerns expressed by the voters they represent.
The most effective communication remains the personal message, whether by mail, visit, or phone, from a concerned constituent.
A poll of House and Senate staff members asked what form of communication makes the most impression on them and the legislators for whom they work. The overwhelming response was articulate, thoughtful and timely letters from constituents. Letters should be kept short and to the point. The most effective letters tie the relevant issue to the legislator’s home state or district. If you know how STD funding levels will have a local impact, be sure to include this information in your communication.
Meeting with a member of Congress or congressional staff is a very effective way to convey a message about a specific legislative issue. Legislators are real people, elected by you to represent your interests. Most are extremely personable and will genuinely enjoy meeting you. Appointments can be arranged by calling or writing the legislator’s district or Washington office. Always identify yourself as a constituent when asking for an appointment. If the legislator is unavailable, the appropriate staff person may offer to meet with you—don’t pass up this opportunity to initiate a relationship.
Tips When Meeting with a Member of Congress
- Be Prompt and Patient: When it is time to meet, be punctual and be patient. It is not uncommon for a congressperson to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, due to the member’s crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. When the opportunity presents itself, continue your meeting with a member’s staff.
- Be Prepared: Have your facts lined up prior to the meeting. Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your position. Always have concisely written documents or clear graphics that reinforce your position and oral presentation.
- Assume No Knowledge: Members and staff usually know little or nothing about our issues. Be sure to explain all acronyms, programs, funding sources and which agencies administer the funds.
- Localize the Issue: Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of the member’s constituency.
- Be Responsive: Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information, in the event the member expresses interest or asks questions.
- Ask Questions: Meetings should be seen as two-way streets with a two-way information flow. If possible, take the opportunity to find out where the member and his/her staff stand on our issues.
- Follow Up: Follow up the meeting with a thank you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting, and send along any additional information and materials requested.
Unless you have a personal relationship with the legislator you are calling, ask to be referred to the staff member responsible for health issues or funding. Keep in mind that congressional offices receive hundreds of calls each day — be brief and to the point. You can always follow up with more information by mail. To reach any Washington congressional office, phone 202-224-3121 and ask for your legislator by name.
Selected Issues in Sexual Health Policy
- Ensuring Access to Services for Young People
ASHA supports the Youth Access to Sexual Health Services Act (YASHS Act), legislation first introduced in 2016 that would provide grants to increase and improve the linkage and access of marginalized young people to sexual and reproductive health care and related services.
- Funding for HIV Prevention, Treatment and Support Programs
As part of the AIDS Budget and Appropriations Coalition (ABAC), a work group of the Federal AIDS Policy Partnership (FAPP), ASHA joined a coalition of organizations urging President Trump to maintain the necessary funding in order to continue addressing HIV/AIDS in the United States in the FY18 federal budget.
- Protecting Patients
ASHA joined a broad coalition of patient and community organizations in urging the Secretary of Health and Human Services to maintain and enforce important patient protections and access to prescription drugs mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
- Reproductive Health and Family Planning Services
As part of the Family Planning Coalition, ASHA joined 60 organizations requesting appropriate funding for the Title X family planning program. Title X family planning clinics play a critical role in ensuring access to a broad range of family planning and preventive health services, including birth control, cancer screenings, and testing for sexually transmitted infections.
- Supporting Planned Parenthood and Cancer Prevention
Services that Planned Parenthood health centers provide to 2.5 million patients each year include screenings for cervical and breast cancers, respectively, and tobacco use/smoking cessation counseling. The majority of patients who depend on the health centers live under the federal poverty level, so it’s crucial to oppose any cuts to funding for their life-saving programs and services. ASHA created a sign on letter from cervical cancer survivors discussing the importance of access from a cancer survivor’s perspective and sent it to the appropriate Senate leadership.
Make Your Case
ASHA’s focus is on policies related to sexual health, which can include everything from improved access to contraception and family planning services, support for comprehensive sex education, protection for LGBTQ individuals, and promotion of vaccine and screening recommendations to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Such policies have an impact on our daily lives as well as on broader public health outcomes.
For example, look at the case of legalized same-sex marriage. While often viewed through the lens of politics, the issue is more a matter of public health. Research has shown that legal marriage comes with not just social and economic benefits, but significant positive health benefits as well, including better access to health insurance and care as well as reduced rates of anxiety and depression. Additionally, surveys of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals revealed evidence of the negative health effects of marriage inequality.
As a national organization, ASHA primarily focuses on federal policy issues. However, there are many sexual issues affected by policies enacted at the state level, from abortion rights, to access to emergency contraception, to sex education. These policies can vary widely from state to state.
For example, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states and the District of Columbia require that information on contraception be provided in sex education classes, while 37 states require that information on abstinence be offered, and 19 require that instruction on the importance of engaging in sexual activity only within marriage be provided. Guttmacher offers monthly state policy updates in all topics of sexual and reproductive health and is an excellent resource for state-level developments.
The National Conference of State Legislatures is another resource for state-level policy issues, including teen dating violence, HPV vaccine statutes, and transgender rights, including so-called “bathroom bills.” These bills are restrict access to restrooms, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities in public buildings—individuals are required to use facilities that correspond the their sex assigned at birth, limiting access for transgender persons. While North Carolina is currently the only state that passed such a bill (which has now been repealed), sixteen other states introduced similar legislation in 2017.