The Washington Post reported yesterday that the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health “just had more than one-quarter of this year’s $4 million operating budget quietly removed.” The office had stood up for scientific research that ultimately led to the approval of Plan B. Because the remaining $2.8 million has already been spent or allocated, the funding cut will “effectively halt further operations for the rest of the year.”
Today, Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach demanding a halt to the agency’s efforts to de-fund the office. The letter stated:
We are deeply concerned by reports that the Food and Drug Administration intends to withhold $1.2 million of funding allocated by Congress for the Office of Women’s Health (OWH). If news of this reallocation is accurate, we urge you to provide any guidance and an explanation for this action. We strongly oppose any efforts to downgrade the OWH at FDA.
For the past sixteen years, the OWH has performed vital work to improve the health and well-being of women across the United States. 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.
We urge you to ensure that the full amount of funding that was appropriated by Congress for the OWH is set aside for that purpose, and request an immediate explanation as to how the reallocation can be averted. Congress has made its intention clear. As Congress moves forward with the budget and appropriations process, we will pursue every course to make certain that this funding is restored. We intend to use every tool at our disposal to make sure that the OWH has the resources it needs to safeguard women’s health.
The Bush administration has done little to promote — and a great deal to impede — the functions of the Office of Women’s Health. Susan Wood, former director of the OWH, resigned in 2005 over the politically-motivated delay surrounding the approval of Plan B. The administration then moved to appoint an “FDA veteran trained in animal husbandry who spent much of his career in the agency’s Center for Veterinary Medicine” to oversee the office. Fierce opposition caused the administration to reconsider that appointment.
Women’s health advocates believe the reported funding cuts are “payback” for OWH’s stance on Plan B and is the beginning of an effort to shut the office down completely.