Wednesday, February 28, 2007
W is for Women?
The Washington Post reports in Women's Health Office Funds Cut:
When is $4 million really $2.8 million? One answer is "When you're a woman," as the Labor Department has repeatedly found that women earn about 75 cents for every dollar that men earn for the same work.
But this week's answer is "When you are the Office of Women's Health" within the Food and Drug Administration. That office, which was at the center of a politically damaging storm over the emergency contraceptive "Plan B," just had more than one-quarter of this year's $4 million operating budget quietly removed, insiders say.
. . . The administration had requested -- and Congress had budgeted -- $4 million for the office in fiscal 2007, just as they have for several years running. Last week, however, word came down that the FDA intends to withhold $1.2 million of that, apparently for use elsewhere in the agency. Because the remaining $2.8 million has already been spent or allocated for salaries and started projects, the office must effectively halt further operations for the rest of the year, according to a high-level agency official with knowledge of the budget plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak publicly.
. . . Women's health advocates inside and outside the agency suspect they are witnessing, at least in part, a long-anticipated payback for the trouble the office stirred during the prolonged debate over nonprescription sales of Plan B. Taking a position that chafed the administration's conservative base, the office had stood up for scientific research that had backed the safety and appropriateness of such sales.
In 2005, the office's then-director, Susan Wood, resigned in protest over the issue, a major embarrassment to the agency. . . . Martha R. Nolan, a vice president at the Society for Women's Health Research, a Washington advocacy group, said that big budget bites in Washington are often the beginning of the end and that she worries that this is retribution for the Plan B controversy. "We fear this is the first step toward eliminating the Office of Women's Health," Nolan said. "We must not allow this office to be eliminated or reduced to an empty shell that has no program funding."
This is just the latest in a pattern of decisionmaking at the FDA that runs counter to women's health and smacks of political bias. For example, a 2006 survey of thousands of FDA scientists, conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), found:
In 2003, an FDA science advisory panel voted 23 to 4 to recommend making Plan B emergency contraception available over the counter. An internal agency memo suggested that FDA professional staff were overruled by senior officials. Numerous FDA officials and medical advisers to FDA involved in the approval process call the move an almost unprecedented repudiation of government scientific expertise. The drugmaker submitted a revised proposal, prompted by the FDA, to give over the counter access to women and older. In August 2005, then-acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford delayed a decision indefinitely by sending the application into a rule-making process. A subsequent Government Accountability Office report deemed the Plan B approval process highly unusual, with an atypical level of involvement by senior FDA officials.
For more about the influence of the Bush Administration's ideology on the FDA generally, and women's health issues in particular: Jesus and the FDA (Time Magazine); an interview of Susan Wood, former director of the Office of Women's Health; What is going on at the FDA? (Lancet editorial); FDA official quits over morning-after decision (MSNBC).