Women’s Health Research Gets Its Priorities Straight

Health and Gender Policy Brief #173 | By: Abigail Hunt | April 24, 2024

Featured Photo: www.twitter.com

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On March 18th, 2024, President Biden signed an executive order requiring medical treatment for women will be based on research with female study participants and subjects. It was not until Gen X hit their teens that the scientific fields acknowledged the need to study an entire population they had been treating half-blind for centuries – women.

Throughout history, women made discoveries and used their brilliance to change the world. Some by publishing research under a man’s name, like Mileva Marić-Einstein, Albert Einstein’s first wife, who actually obtained higher marks than Albert in testing in physics class. By Albert’s own admission, Mileva kept him focused on research. Some women influenced society and furthered progress through skilled communication and subtle maneuvering, like Eleanor Roosevelt did as First Lady, although FDR is lauded for her accomplishments.

The erasure of women from history facilitates the furthering of the invisibility of women today. Everyone on this earth was carried in utero by a biological female; everyone has a mother. Despite the pivotal importance of being the primary providers of propagation and tutelage of the human race – of single parents across the globe, 84 percent are women – health care for women in the United States is abysmal.

In a 2003 study by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), researchers’ failure to verify subjects’ cause of death led to a much higher maternal mortality rate than the reality. The overall maternal mortality rate for the U.S. from 2018-2021 averaged 10.4 per 100,000 live births, but the NCHS study claimed the rate was more than twice that – 23.6 per 100,000 live births. Despite the lower actual numbers, according to CIA.gov the U.S. still comes in at the 122nd worst on a global ranking for maternal mortality rates, bested by 64 countries, including Lebanon, Latvia, Malaysia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Analysis

The errors made in the aforementioned calculations are perhaps an apt example of the vast deficits in our female-focused research. For example, amniotic fluid embolism (AFE) is the second leading cause of death for women in the time just before, during, and after childbirth. Fifty percent of those with AFE die within the first hour. It affects one in every 40,000 births in North America. Most women have likely never heard of this condition, and probably no one has taught them about it. This author has been through that process with three children, and I learned about it by happenstance. Because men are the ones doing the research, they perhaps do not consider problems which only women face, meaning there are huge gaps in knowledge, an Achilles’ heel in our health care system.

Since its beginnings, biomedical scientific research was carried out by male scientists who studied only male subjects. Although currently about half of the population is female, there is significant gender bias against women in research. It is also true that men go understudied in certain areas of science; the disparity men face in gender bias occurs less often. This legislation guaranteeing female-focused research is progress in the right direction.

One cannot discuss women’s health while ignoring abortion access as part of the discussion – to do so would perpetuate the same patriarchal ignorance which has detrimentally affected women’s health in this country since its inception. Like most things in life, this story of progress in women’s health care is convoluted. Since the summer 2022 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the pivotal SCOTUS case which resulted in federal legal protection for abortion access for the next almost half a century, several states have outlawed abortion access entirely. Should a total federal abortion ban, for which many conservative politicians advocate, come to pass, it would result in a 21 percent increase in the maternal mortality rate. Zealots are calling for women who seek abortion to face the death penalty. Women face dire consequences should a pregnancy end in anything other than a live birth; nowadays, women who have spontaneous miscarriage face interrogation and suspicion at a time when they should be given comfort and consolation. For women, the reality is a nightmare dystopia akin to Gilead. One half-expects to see red robes and white bonnets materializing in grocery markets. In a world where politicians advocate for women to face the death penalty for abortion, Biden’s announcement reads like lip service.

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