Yesterday morning we awoke to a political landscape that seems jarred by the process of democracy, but ready to move forward as a nation. Three issues defined the outcome: the percent of women who chose democratic principles; the resounding losses by candidates who are antiquated in their thinking about pregnancy, in particular; and, the need to hold all of us accountable as citizens in the care of each other starting at the research bench to the bedside. I’m a reproductive scientist and direct the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University, so these issues are my issues and it is now time to look forward and identify actionable steps that moves our field forward.
I’ll start with the women. I believe the 55% to 43% differential in the women’s vote for Obama was not just a vote for a person, but for a platform. It is a vote that recognizes that sexuality is not something that can be regulated by the state. It is a vote that states emphatically that the fact of rape is never legitimate. It says that the consequences of forced intercourse are never ‘god’s will’. Women ‘got’ the vote in 1920 and today their votes say that the politicians must begin to understand that women’s concerns are important and legitimate.
How we move forward to ensure that women’s bodies and their health are not political footballs or pincushions (depending on your gender-identified metaphor) is critical. Here are some suggestions:
- We can no longer allow basic research and new drug development be done solely in male models (cell, animal or human) —this practice loses the ‘bang for our buck’ when we discover sex differences further down the research pipeline.
- We must report sex differences (or no difference) in study findings and include them in our scientific publications.
- We must redistribute more federal dollars to fund important reproductive health studies that include the ovary, uterus, testis, egg, and sperm that impact the next generation of Americans. (The Reproductive Science Branch of the National Institute of Child Health allocates only .022% of $30 billion to address reproductive health issues)
- And we must invest in tomorrow’s generation of innovators who might now be high school students or graduate students by funding innovative education programs and traditional training grants today that include a respect for sex and gender differences in all aspects of health and well-being.
I’ve gone from the very broadest issue of our day – the election and women’s issues and women’s votes – to the very granular issues of funding the next generation of research. Bill O’Reilly, speaking on Fox News election night said that 50% of the population voted for Obama because they want ‘stuff’. I think the ‘stuff’ we want is the right to speak our mind and be heard on issues that concern our health and the health of our families. We want our bodies to be respected by politicians, scientists, and everyone in between. The ‘stuff’ we want is assurances that the biomedical community is including male and female animals and patients in all of the scientific studies that we, women, fund through our taxes. The ‘stuff’ we want is to make sure that there is a way forward for research in an area that without question, touches each and every one of us. Our vote suggests that that ‘stuff’ is important and on this ‘morning after’ we are looking forward to the next four years.
Author: Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD, Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology