Biden Signs Executive Order to Boost Women’s Health Research

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden signed an executive order to strengthen women’s health research standards across federal agencies and prioritize its funding, part of a broader effort to close the gap on long-standing disparities.

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Biden called it the “most comprehensive executive actions ever taken to improve women’s health” at a White House event on Monday, and said it highlighted the administration’s efforts to bolster economic gains for women.

“Our administration has turned around the economy because we focused on women,” Biden said. “If you want to have the strongest economy in the world, you can’t leave half the workforce behind.”

Under the order, the National Science Foundation and Department of Health and Human Services are instructed to research ways to use artificial intelligence to advance women’s health research. It also directs the HHS to expand data collection on women’s midlife health and launch an agenda that can guide investments toward menopause-related research.

Women’s health research has faced disparities for decades, from funding to trials. Women are historically underrepresented in clinical and research trials. A 2021 study in the Journal of Women’s Health concluded that the National Institutes of Health’s funding pattern favors males in nearly three-quarters of the cases where a disease primarily afflicts one gender.

The White House has proposed $12 billion to create a women’s health research fund at the NIH and establish a national network of women’s research centers. Biden has referred to the funding as part of his self-proclaimed “unity agenda,” intended to gather support from both sides of the aisle. It’s uncertain whether the funding, part of the president’s broader $7.3 trillion budget proposal for the 2025 fiscal year, will be approved by Congress.

Biden was joined Monday by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and journalist Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family who founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.

Menopause Research

The executive order instructs the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department to study and improve the treatment of menopause for women in the military and veterans. Meanwhile, the NIH will invest $200 million toward interdisciplinary research, such as the impact of menopause on heart, bone and brain health beginning in fiscal 2025.

Shriver on Monday joked that Biden’s actions likely mark the first time an executive order has mentioned menopause.

Employers have increasingly been offering specific menopause benefits for staff as they look to address the $26.6 billion the US economy loses each year in relation to employees managing menopause symptoms. A recent analysis found that 15% of employers said they offer or plan to offer menopause benefits in 2024, up from 4% last year.

Earlier: Hot Flashes, Brain Fog: Executives Break Menopause Taboo at Work

The order is intended to address all diseases that affect women, and doesn’t specifically target in-vitro fertilization or other forms of reproductive health, according to a senior administration official.

Women’s reproductive health has been a focal point on ballots since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022. Voters in Republican-leaning Ohio and swing-state Michigan enshrined abortion access in their state constitutions during recent elections.

Democrats have made reproductive rights a central issue ahead of the November elections. Vice President Kamala Harris visited a women’s health clinic where abortions are performed, as well as other services, in Minneapolis last week. The trip signaled the administration’s focus on women’s reproductive rights as Harris embarks on a “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour.

“It’s clear those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade, who support a national ban on abortion have no clue,” Biden said Monday.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has expressed his support of a 16-week abortion ban in private conversations to allies. Trump said Sunday he would make a public decision “pretty soon” on what his campaign’s stance on abortion would be. His stance would include the “three exceptions,” he said, likely referring to allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the patient.

--With assistance from Michelle Jamrisko.

(Updates with Biden signing order and quotes from first paragraph.)

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