Women’s History in the Making

Congressman’s Notebook — 3/6/16

Since 1987, Americans have marked the month of March as an opportunity to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of women throughout our nation’s history. From abolitionists to suffragists, athletes to artists, women have shaped who we are as a country and worked in ways large and small to better our communities. And from Pearl S. Buck to Dorothy Parker, there is no shortage of these pioneers locally.

Equally as important during Women’s History Month is the recognition of those women making history today — many of whom do so quietly and thanklessly. These are the women who don’t set out to change the world but, as the adage goes, have greatness thrust upon them.

During my time in public service, both in Bucks County and the nation’s capital, I’ve met many of these exceptional individuals.

Among that group are women I’ve worked with regarding Essure. These are regular, everyday moms, sisters, daughters and aunts from around the country who by virtue of a faulty medical device, have had their world turned upside-down.

For tens of thousands, the personal decision to pursue a non-surgical method of permanent contraception left them with debilitating pain, allergic reactions to nickel, loss of teeth and hair, and countless other complications. What’s worse, the defective device led to at least four women’s deaths and the death of nearly 300 unborn children (a reported number that’s jumped 60% in the last week).

Even with these devastating side effects, spread across women of every age, location, race and demographic, those harmed by Essure too often found doctors unwilling to believe them and a manufacturer who ignored them. Even the federal agency that provided this flawed procedure its “gold stamp of approval” refused to acknowledge their pain.

With the world stacked against them and no one to turn to, these women found comfort in an online community of others who shared their situation. While they could have been content to focus on their misfortunes, they’ve chosen another path: fighting on.

When no one would listen, they talked louder. When the law prevented them legal recourse, they worked to change the law. And when the FDA refused to review discrepancies in the data, they crunched the numbers themselves.

In the months working with Essure women I’ve simply tried to act as a conduit for them — speaking on the House floor and with other members, I tell their stories in their own words. Like that of Angie Firmalino of Tannersville, NY who, after undergoing the Essure procedure, has endured seven surgeries and says she is still not, nor will ever be, her old self, but is a tireless advocate for the cause. It was their idea and passion that led me to introduce the E-Free Act in November which removes the approval for this product before more women can be harmed.

A testament to their work has been the slow and steady turning of the tide against Essure. In the last month alone, through their efforts the FDA has been forced to acknowledge major discrepancies in its publically reported data, that Essure was under-labeled for physicians and patients to understand the risks associated, and that more studies are needed. While these outcomes won’t take away their suffering or be the ultimate victory of removing Essure from the market, they mark progress in a fight that would not have been had without them.

Even in the face of opposition or ignorance from multi-national corporations, armies of unelected bureaucrats and with no voice of their own, these women are continuing the American tradition of women making a difference.

As Bucks County’s own Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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