A top official from the Food and Drug Administration informed Congress last week that the agency will provide its Office of Women’s Health with all of the funding allocated to its 2007 budget, after numerous protests and petitions to not go through with a $1 million cut.
The agency’s decision was well received by women’s health advocacy groups.
“At the end of the day, it’s a victory,” said Kirsten Moore, president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies project in Washington D.C. The organization focuses on ensuring over-the-counter emergency contraception is made available to women and reproductive freedom is available through the use of birth control paying close attention to health.
Initially sparking a national uproar, The Washington Post cited an anonymous FDA official who said the budget would most likely be cut. In fact, the source said, $2.8 million of the budget had already been allocated for other salaries and projects, which could force the office to stop operations.
The rumor prompted a letter, signed by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, and Olympia Snowe, to be sent to FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach. The letter asked Eschenbach to provide an explanation of the cut and urged him to see that the office receives its full funding.
Posted on the Society for Women’s Research Web site is a statement that read, “The OWH looks out for the day to day needs of women and promotes and monitors the progress of women’s health initiatives at the FDA. Slashing funding for the OWH would pull the rug out from under these efforts and shortchange promising efforts to improve women’s health.”
The group’s primary role includes monitoring the progress of health initiatives for women, correcting gender disparities in drug testing and regulation policy, ensuring the FDA’s functions are sensitive and responsive to gender, and promoting a fair approach to women’s health issues within the administration. The office also has a science program that funds projects to increase knowledge of gender-related issues.
The Post piece also said the budget cut may have been in retaliation for the OWH’s controversial push for over-the-counter approval of the emergency contraception “Plan B,” also known as the “morning after pill,” which was approved for use by women over age 18 in August 2006.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney introduced H.R. 1072, also known as the Women’s Health Office Act of 2007, last month. The bill would establish a permanent Office of Women’s Health within the FDA and the following agencies: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Each OWH established would identify short and long-term goals within the FDA for women’s health research, support relevant projects and communicate with health professionals and organizations on policy related to women.
“We are just thrilled that the mission of the Office of Women’s Health will go on,” said Karen Young, a coordinator for the Society for Women’s Health Research in Washington D.C. The non-profit organization is focused on biological differences between men and women, research, and educating the public about women’s health research and policy issues. Young said the decision was crucial to the OWH’s mission.
“It will help to stabilize their functions,” she said, adding that the office would not be able to perform their outreach and policy work without it.
Moore said the organization was active in informing Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro and Rep. Tom Cole that the FDA should be held accountable for the proposed budget cut.
Others said that questioning the administration’s plan reinforces the public’s right to know, puts a face on decisions and provides a public record that allows people to challenge them.
“It gives a level of accountability to those actions,” said Jay Dyckman from the National Coalition Against Censorship, a New York-based alliance of 50 non-profit organizations, whose stated goal is to educate the public about the dangers of censorship.