Fight Zika, not fam­ily plan­ning

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

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.

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