Biden signs executive order to boost women's health research

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President Joe Biden signed an executive order Monday to expand research on women’s health care, including strengthening data standards.

The president also announced more than 20 new actions and commitments by federal agencies, including $200 million for research at the National Institutes of Health. The White House described the investments as a first step toward a “Fund on Women’s Health” that Biden called on Congress to invest in during his State of the Union address this month.

First lady Jill Biden’s announced $100 million in funding for women’s health last month.

In remarks at a Women’s History Month event at the White House on Monday afternoon, the president touted that women are not underrepresented in his administration despite being “underrepresented across the board.”

“We’re proud to have an administration that looks like America, with more women serving in a senior position than any time in American history,” Biden said. He praised Vice President Kamala Harris, his Supreme Court pick, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and women serving in the Defense Department's top ranks, including the first woman confirmed to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Biden stressed that research “has taken much too long" to address women's health care and said his executive order directs "the most comprehensive set of executive actions ever taken to improve” women’s health.

He criticized Republicans who opposed the American Rescue Plan, the Covid-era economic stimulus bill that he signed into law, saying its increase in the child tax credit “cut child poverty nearly in half.” He also warned that his opponents are underestimating the “power of women” at the ballot box.

“Clearly those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade to support a national ban on abortion have no clue about the power of women," he said, referring to conservatives who support the Supreme Court's 2022 decision to overturn the landmark ruling.

"They’re going to speak out again in 2024 and send me a Democratic Congress that supports reproductive freedom,” he added, referring to female voters. “I promise you, I promise you we will restore Roe v. Wade again as the law of the land.”

Carolyn Mazure, chairperson of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, said on a media call Sunday afternoon that there has never been "such a comprehensive effort from the federal government to spur innovation, women’s health and ensure that relevant federally funded research works harder for women."

"This is a huge opportunity for transformative change and will help improve the health and lives of women all across the country,” Mazure said.

She noted that although women make up half of the population, research into women’s health has been underfunded and understudied.

“While we’ve made tremendous progress over the last two decades, from revolutionary discoveries in certain disorders affecting women to increasing the number of women enrolled in clinical trials, we still know too little about how to effectively prevent, diagnose and treat a wide array of health conditions in women, conditions that have different symptoms for women and men," including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as conditions unique to women, such as endometriosis and fibroids, Mazure said.

The president and the first lady launched the White House initiative on women’s health research in November. Jill Biden has spearheaded the effort by traveling across the country to tour research institutions and speak with women and health care innovators about the need to transform women’s health research, Mazure said.

Jen Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said the announcements about women’s health research build on the president’s call for Congress to invest $12 billion in new funding for it during his State of the Union address, which includes establishing a central fund for women’s health at the NIH that, in part, would create a nationwide network dedicated to studying the subject.

Biden is directing federal agencies "to integrate women’s health across the federal research portfolio," prioritizing investment in research and innovation through entities like the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health and the Small Business Innovation Research program, Klein said. The effort aims to galvanize research on women’s midlife health, including post-menopause diseases and conditions such as heart attacks, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis, and "to assess unmet needs to support women’s health research by identifying gaps in federal funding and requiring agencies to report on their progress in improving women’s health,” she said.

The executive order comes in the wake of widespread backlash over a recent Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling on in vitro fertilization treatments that said embryos are considered to be children, prompting state Republicans to swiftly pass bills to protect the procedure.

Biden has repeatedly condemned the Supreme Court’s overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 2022, and Democrats have made reproductive rights a focal point in their 2024 campaigns.

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