When U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, wanted to increase funding to support endometriosis research, she knew exactly who to go to: women.
Finkenauer was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 18 after suffering from often severe pain. Endometriosis is a disease where the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. The result is often crippling and intense pain. It takes an average 8 to 10 years and multiple doctors for women to finally receive a diagnosis. And study after study shows that this is because doctors don’t believe women when they speak about their pain.
Activist and documentary filmmaker Shannon Cohn, who made the film “Endo What?” said in a 2017 TEDx Talk, “Lack of awareness, gender bias, uninformed doctors, fragmented care, and the undue influence of commercial interests on health care: A perfect storm made all the more volatile by talking about things that are traditionally taboo in society.”
In March, Finkenauer and Republican Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico created the bipartisan Endometriosis Caucus. “It was important that there were women in power I could talk to. I could tell them my story and I knew I’d be listened to,” Finkenauer explained to me in an interview.
On July 31, thanks to Finkenauer’s efforts, the House approved an amendment that will double the amount of research for endometriosis to $26 million per year, from $13 million. Finkenauer isn’t the only politician pushing to fund research for women’s health issues. On July 30, Sen. Kamala Harris introduced a bill that also would increase the funding for uterine fibroids. Another painful condition that affects 26 million women in the United States.
You might wonder why Americans should care about endometriosis and the pain of women during a year where pandemic and revolution have picked off the scab of the raw exposed wound of the American experiment. But this pandemic is a crisis for women. Statistically, it’s women who are bearing the brunt of the child care and chores, while working either at home or on the front lines. Its women, specifically women of color who earn less than men and their white peers, while working as teachers and nurses and in other essential jobs.
And yet, despite the fact that women are so essential to the economy, their pain often is ignored and goes untreated. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in a 7-2 decision that employers can refuse to cover birth control for their employees — a medication which is used to help manage endometriosis.
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If we want to address systemic inequality in our health care system, we must begin by addressing women’s needs.
In Iowa, under the guise of the pandemic, Gov. Kim Reynolds has attempted to rollback health care for women by trying to ban abortions. Each time she’s been thwarted by the courts, but her earlier attempts at gutting reproductive health care in the state have meant that STDs are on the rise and so is the abortion rate in the state.
“Women’s health care is a complicated issue,” Finkenauer told me in an interview, “but it’s too important to ignore.”
The prevailing logic has been that the collective uteri of American women are important enough to rely on to provide essential services, but not important enough to fund or support. But if the pandemic is revealing one thing, it is that the American uterus is too important to our society to fail.