By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Uterus1
In early March, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) introduced the Women’s Health Office Act, a bill designed to make permanent women’s health-related offices and positions at five federal agencies. By creating permanent women’s health offices and positions, the bill seeks to guarantee sufficient funding, human resources, and protection of health research activities in the area of women’s health in the United States.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) commended the introduction of the bill, noting that it was a big step forward for both women’s health and public service agencies. “We must have advocates within the government who can both champion women’s health and monitor the actions and progress of our research and public service agencies,” said Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of SWHR. “The Society applauds Senators Snowe and Mikulski for helping ensure a better future for women’s health research.” Recently, she added, “increases in federal research funding for women’s health research have not kept pace with increases in federal research funding overall, and this legislation would help rectify that.”
Surprisingly, only two women’s health offices – the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health and the Office for Women’s Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – are protected by law at present. The Women’s Health Office Act would give statutory authority to women’s health focused offices and divisions within the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Senators Snowe and Mikulski, as well as their many supporters, want to pass the bill to ensure that funding and positions related to women’s health stay intact even if and when the government deprioritizes women’s health from its current agenda, as many argue has been the case in the Bush administration. President Bush has already sought funding cuts for such things as education on reproductive health and access to certain types of women’s health care, and critics are concerned that he and his supporters will continue to divert funding, limiting availability and quality of pertinent research and healthcare for women across the country.
“Improving the health of women in this country and around the world requires a far greater understanding of women’s health needs and conditions than we currently possess,” said Senator Snowe, as well as “an ongoing evaluation in the areas of research, education, prevention, treatment and the delivery of services.”