By Laura K. Grubb, MD, MPH
SAHM Advocacy Committee Chair
Abigail English, JD
SAHM Senior Policy Fellow
Recent events in the U.S. and on the world stage have highlighted the importance of policies for the health and well-being of adolescents and young adults (AYAs). For example, as the U.S. was emerging from the 2022 mid-term elections, global leaders were meeting in Egypt for the 2022 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 27), both of which have major implications for AYAs. The range and reach of current global and U.S. policy developments underscore the urgency of advocacy to ensure that policies promote rather than harm the health of AYAs.
SAHM has continued to advocate on numerous policies of importance for AYAs. The organization’s advocacy has addressed issues related to mental health, transgender and non-binary youth, abortion, over-the counter access to oral contraceptives, menstrual poverty, HIV testing and prevention (including PrEP), vaccine consent, privacy of electronic health information, child and adolescent health research, mass shootings and gun violence, and climate change.

SAHM’s advocacy uses varied approaches: position papers, public statements and press releases, letters to Congress, comments on regulations, meetings with national leaders, and amicus briefs in court cases. This work is only possible through the active engagement and support of the many SAHM members who use their extensive expertise and experience not only to provide health care and conduct research, but also to advocate in favor of beneficial policies and against ones that are harmful, both for AYAs and for adolescent health professionals.
Advocating for policy change is a complex and challenging process. As an important part of this process, SAHM advocacy efforts educate and inform SAHM members as well as policymakers in interconnected ways. SAHM annual meetings have included plenary sessions exploring issues of fundamental importance for AYAs’ health in the policy arena. The following examples illustrate this synergy:
  • In 2021, Lourdes Rivera, JD, Senior Vice-President, U.S. Programs, at the Center for Reproductive Rights, delivered the Gallagher Lecture on “Reproductive Rights as Human Rights,” addressing both the global human rights perspective on reproductive rights and the U.S. federal and state policy landscape on young people’s access. On numerous occasions, SAHM has joined amicus briefs to protect adolescents’ access to abortion and reproductive health services.
  • In 2021, Ruth Etzel, MD, PhD, Professorial Lecturer, Millken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, gave a plenary lecture on climate change, explaining the physical and mental health impacts of climate change on AYAs and discussing how adolescent health professionals can advocate on climate change policy at the national and international level. SAHM members have recently formed a Climate Change SIG and a group of SAHM and IAAH members are authoring a joint position paper on climate change.
  • In 2022, Admiral Rachel Levine, MD, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, delivered the Gallagher Lecture, addressing issues of equity and affordability; the importance of comprehensive, youth-friendly, and gender-affirming quality adolescent health care; and the impact of COVID-19. SAHM has had the opportunity to follow up with Admiral Levine and her staff on these and other issues in quarterly meetings together with the AAP.
  • In 2022, Peter Rowe, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins, gave a plenary lecture on Long COVID and ME/CFS. Not yet well-understood from a diagnostic and treatment perspective, COVID-19, including Long COVID, presents major policy challenges with respect to the health and economic implications for AYAs. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, SAHM has been represented by a liaison to the CDCs Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), one of the major arenas for policy-making on COVID vaccination.
 The 2023 SAHM meeting will offer participants in-depth explorations of key policy issues confronting adolescent health professionals and the AYAs they serve. The 2023 plenaries will focus on three critically important and timely issues: the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision on abortion services for youth; legal and governmental actions affecting transgender care for youth; and clinical and policy issues in the care of refugee youth (see SAHM Matters update from Nicolas Westers PsyD). These plenary presentations enhance SAHM’s knowledge base as a foundation for future advocacy. The voices of youth are critically important in SAHM’s advocacy. Plenaries at recent annual meetings have included youth speakers, who have enriched our understanding of the issues; the SAHM 2023 plenaries will also highlight the perspective of youth speakers.
Our future advocacy to protect and promote the health and well-being of AYAs will depend, as it always has, on the enthusiasm, commitment, dedication, creativity and perseverance of SAHM members. The Advocacy Committee is ready to help. Let us know what is needed! We would love to work with you. Here is the list of the Advocacy Team members at SAHM: 

Advocacy Committee: Laura K Grubb, MD, MPH, Chair, Saira Ahmed, Aixa Aleman-Diaz, Jesse Barondeau, Paula Cody, Sarah Green, Tonya Katcher, Gregg Montalto and Diane Straub.

Advocacy Committee Consultants: Joanna Brown, Abigail English, Andrea Hoopes, Karen Johnson, Lisa Mihaly, Sarah Nathan, Maria Rahmandar, Jack Rusley, John Santelli, Eve Shapiro, Margaret Stager, Kathleen Tebb, Iniobond Udo and Ariel White. 

Advocacy Special Interest Group leaders: Jennifer Morone, Laura Grubb 

Senior Policy Fellow: Abigail English, JD 

Again, thank you for all you do! 

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