Thursday, March 8, 2007

Dr. Susan Wood Comes to TCNJ

In a blog about Flavor of Love, a quick post referring to the former FDA official in charge of women's health may seem out of place. However, the constricts of the course that caused me to create this blog is that of the Women and Genders department here at TCNJ, and a big part of the discipline within the school is analyzing why this nation continues to put personal politics over safety and health of women. Susan Wood's presentation was entitled "Plan B: Politics or Science?"

Basically Wood described the details of her job at the FDA focusing on women's health issues (Contraception, pregnancy, etc) as well as diseases that affect women differently (lupus, breast cancer, etc). She told the history of Women's Health in her view of 3 separate phases: Progressive Ladies & Transitional Advocates, Militant Action (Grassroots Campaign), and Professional Advocates.

The 1st phase included such advocates as Mary Lasler, Terese Lasser, Doris Haire, and my personal favorite (as secretary for Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood on this campus) Margaret Sanger. Health became an issue for women within the constricts of reproductive rights, the place where women's health differs so much from men's, and major issues of this era were dangerous medications like Thalidomide, which caused intense birth defects, and DES, which caused a rare and serious vaginal cancer to women exposed in utero. The FDA began regulating women's health issues here and with the Daltkon Shield IUD in 1976.

The 2nd phase began with the creation of NOW as well as the book "Our Bodies, Ourselves" and the Senate Trials over the safety of the birth control pill that completely left women out of the deciding process. The outcomes of that trial were monumental by beginning the tradition of patient inserts for medications, rather than a patient needing to rely solely on their doctor to gain information about their medication. Pregnant women or women who could possibly become pregnant were, however, banned from medical trials during this period, an exclusion that created danger for women under the guise of helping them.

The 3rd phase encouraged women's participation in health studies and through the creation of groups like the Society for Women's Health Research created the Women's Health Equity Act, which began to give women more of a place in medical research.

The root of the presentation, Plan B, was a routine approval to make public and over-the-counter emergency contraception, which would help prevent unwanted pregnancy (not cause abortions). On the contrary, if Plan B is utilized effectively it can prevent the need to obtain an abortion because it is preventing the unwanted pregnancy to begin with. The bill was turned down due to the fact that young teens weren't a large enough sample in the testing process, an unprecedented denial clause. When years had passed since the drug should have been approved, Wood felt the need to resign her post because she couldn't work for an organization that valued politics over science. The drug was finally approved on August 24, 2006.

Wood drew a parallel to the current scandal with the HPV vaccine that people believe that by protecting women's health, as well as reproductive health, some members of the general public draw the conclusion that availability of these medications will promote promiscuity in young girls -- yeah, cause when I was under 16, the only thing stopping me from having sex was the fear of cervical cancer.

Basically, the point of the lecture was that religious, moral, ethical, etc ideals about teen sexuality should not have any baring when considering scientific fact that could create a healthier reproductive life for the women of this nation. This was the only medication proven safe to ever have this much of an opposition to being accepted. The constant revisions and roadblocks to bringing public a pill that's as simple to understand as birth control pills themselves are a sign of politics over science, and therefore politics over women's health and well being. A woman begins her reproductive life around the age of 13, that does not mean that she becomes sexually active at that point, nor will the presence of emergency contraception champion unsafe and promiscuous sexual activity. However, these girls who are deemed old enough by science over politics are robbed of a safety tool in their health. Susan Wood resigned in order to prove that to the nation, and (slowly) it seems to be getting the idea. The College was lucky to get such an impressive Key Note Speaker to kick off Women's History Month 2007.


Dennis Smith said...

Nice post, Melissa. Although I have five children (from 3 to 13 years), I gotta admit that I don't know much about your topic! ;)

Just wanted to say I like what you did with the format of your blog - nice layout - and good color scheme. Every now and then you pepper your posts with links (within the post). Good move - it provides potential click-throughs for your readers. And most of us are click-happy.

Keep up the good work - you've the blogging-gene in ya.


Jessie said...

Hi Melissa-
You've done an awesome job with this post and it's very informative--you provided the historical context for the discussion as it relates to Dr. Wood, the FDA, her resignation, and her subsequent visit to TCNJ for Women's History Month 2007 (

What I love about this project is that a great post like yours can spread awareness about these issues. You're providing a great resource that can definitely inform others who might not have otherwise had access to this info!

Nice Job!