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Hill Climbers: Ex-Staffer Works for Women’s Rights

Whether she’s volunteering with victims of domestic abuse or working for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Annie Walden-Newman always wants to be fighting for women’s rights.

Now the policy director for the National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Association, Walden-Newman said she watched some of her friends growing up in Cheyenne, Wyo., make difficult decisions after getting pregnant at 16 or 17.

When she went off to college at Western Washington University, she discovered programs that offered family planning services and free contraception, services she said her hometown didn’t offer during her childhood.

Walden-Newman began volunteering at her local prosecutor’s office as a legal advocate for victims of domestic abuse during her junior year of college. Volunteering at her local Planned Parenthood sparked an interest in women’s health issues.

Between her junior and senior years of college, she got an internship with Murray, the “mom in tennis shoes” known for her legislative work on contraception, abortion rights and violence against women.

Although she had been planning on going to law school following graduation, Walden-Newman changed her mind and headed for Capitol Hill instead.

She and a friend packed their entire lives into a Penske truck and drove across the country to Washington, D.C., although they hadn’t lined up jobs or apartments. She took an internship on the House side while waiting for a slot to open up in Murray’s office, where she landed a staff assistant job in February 2010.

Walden-Newman worked her way up to legislative aide, working on Medicare, Medicaid, gay rights, abortion rights and women’s issues.

Murray’s chief of staff mentored her and helped guide her career, and she realized the important role mentors play for interns and new staffers on the Hill. When she served as the first heterosexual board member of the Gay, Lesbian, & Allies Senate Staff Caucus, she helped organize the group’s mentorship program.

“I’m always extremely willing to sit down with interns and anyone who’s looking for a job,” she said. “I firmly believe you can learn from people who have been in your shoes before. And I wanted the mentorship program to be a welcoming place for LGBT and allied staffers.”

Recently, she has spent her Friday nights volunteering with a group called Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, which tries to reduce HIV and AIDS, intravenous drug use, violence and poverty among the District’s sex workers. Walden-Newman hands out condoms and safe-sex supplies from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. with the HIPS mobile van unit, which also offers needle exchange and free HIV testing and counseling.

Walden-Newman started her job with the National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Association in early October and said she made the jump from staffer to lobbyist because she wanted to play a more active role in budget and appropriations for Title X programs.

Enacted in 1970, Title X of the Public Health Service Act funds contraceptive services, supplies and education for nearly 4,500 clinics across the country. She hopes eventually to earn a graduate degree in public health.

In her first month of work, Walden-Newman has already begun lobbying and informing members of Congress about appropriations for family planning programs.

“I really wanted to focus on these programs that are going to become targeted because of sequestration and remind members of Congress how important these programs are,” she said.

Although she doesn’t sleep much between her volunteer work and her day job, her role with HIPS constantly reinforces her belief in the need to fund programs that offer sexual education and free condoms.

“When it’s three in the morning and I’m out in the van, I see the connection,” she said. “I think if the funding weren’t there, the van wouldn’t go out and these services wouldn’t exist. And these people would not be helped.”

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