Fight Zika, not family planning
At least two Congressional Republicans sound ready to drop a misguided fight over Planned Parenthood in the interest of fighting the deadly Zika virus. Will their GOP cohorts see reason, or continue to politicize the issue?
Majority Senate Republicans have been trying to pass a stopgap spending bill that cuts Planned Parenthood funding. It’s stalled because Democrats won’t support it. Even though Zika poses the biggest threat to women and babies — it is linked to serious birth defects, including microcephaly — Republicans’ funding proposal would limit the distribution of contraceptives, focusing instead on mosquito control, vaccines and diagnostics; and it would bar family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood from participating in the fight against Zika. The proposed $1.1 billion is barely over half what the Obama administration asked for.
To his credit, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, supports a spending bill that would include funding for Zika — and Planned Parenthood. Officials must pass the measure by Sept. 30 or risk a government shutdown.
Likewise, Sen. Mark Kirk, RIllinois, is urging fellow Republicans to give up the Planned Parenthood fight to speed up funding aimed at combating the mosquito-borne Zika, which is spreading in Florida. Kirk accurately termed the anti-Planned Parenthood components of the disputed spending bill “poison pill language.”
Planned Parenthood is one of the nation’s largest health providers, but many Republicans have demonized it for years over the fact that the agency provides abortions. But abortion services make up only a fraction of Planned Parenthood’s work. It provides a range of general health care services, from anemia testing to flu vaccines, diabetes and thyroid screening to smoking cessation help in addition to its sexual and reproductive health services. In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the only available provider of such services.
The disputed language in the GOP-version bill states that grants to fight Zika can be used only by “health services provided by public health departments, hospitals, or reimbursed through public health plans.” Thus two Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico, where thousands of people are infected by the virus, wouldn’t be eligible for the funding.
Fighting Zika shouldn’t devolve into a political battle. The virus emerged earlier this year in Brazil as a possible global threat and health officials have been monitoring its insidious spread. Florida health officials have identified 604 travel-related cases of Zika and 56 nontravel related cases. Some 84 pregnant women in the Sunshine State have been infected with Zika. Rubio and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, have been pressing for fast action.
Republicans in Congress should put women and children’s health ahead of their unfounded attack on family planning agencies. Further delay of an assault on Zika is unacceptable.