Last week I wrote to tell you the great news that medical experts at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recognized the importance of comprehensive contraceptive care for helping women avoid health problems and have healthy families. Much of the media coverage this week focused on that recommendation, which has been criticized by a handful of conservative activists and religious leaders on the margins who oppose contraception.
But the IOM report not only laid out a clear, uncontroversial scientific basis for its contraception recommendation, it also put forward an evidence-based case for other critical preventive health services.
As a supporter of the National Women’s Health Network, you know that reproductive autonomy is essential to a woman’s ability to stay healthy AND you know that women’s health is about more than reproduction. The IOM recognized both of these truths, and its recommendations span a wide spectrum of important women’s health concerns.
Intimate partner violence. Screening and counseling for women and adolescents about current and past violence and abuse so that providers can address health concerns about safety and other health problems that may be associated with interpersonal and domestic violence.
Gestational diabetes. Screening pregnant women for gestational diabetes , a form of the disease which develops during pregnancy and increases a woman’s risk of developing other forms in the future as well as her child’s risk of being overweight and insulin resistant. Gestational diabetes occurs more often among women of color.
Breastfeeding. Making trained breastfeeding counselors available to all women during pregnancy and after they give birth and making breastfeeding equipment available to those who want it.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Counseling all sexually active women on STIs annually; screening all sexually active women for HIV infection annually; and adding a test for high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) – an infection that can cause cervical cancer -- to conventional cervical cancer screening for women starting at age 30 and continuing every three years. These recommendations for counseling and screening are critical at time when more and more women are becoming infected by risk behaviors of their partners that the women may not know about.
Well-woman preventive care visits. Conducting at least one well-woman preventive care visit for adult women each year so that women can get the recommended preventive services.
Adding these preventive services, along with comprehensive contraceptive care, to the list of women’s health care that the health reform law already requires insurance companies to cover without extra co-pays and other charges will create a powerful tool for improving the health of all women. Please take an action this week to urge HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to promote women’s health by adopting the IOM recommendations in full. Looking for ideas? Sign our petition, send a letter to the editor of your local paper, or talk to a health policymaker at a forum in your community.
Women’s health advocates have worked for this moment for decades, and we’re on the brink of a change that will affect women’s health for decades to come. We can stand together to achieve at this goal – join us!