WASHINGTON — A bill that would provide emergency funding to combat the Zika virus is stalled in the U.S. Senate in large part because Democrats object to provisions limiting the amount of Zika funding that could be distributed to Planned Parenthood.
After bipartisan negotiations on the bill halted last month, Republicans put forward a bill that appropriates $1.1 billion to combat Zika, which is expected to spread in the continental U.S. this summer following a wave of infections in Latin America. The measure allows some Zika-related funds to be used for contraception and prenatal care but directs those funds to primary health care providers and specific international organizations rather than Planned Parenthood.
Under the bill, Planned Parenthood could still be reimbursed through Medicaid for some Zika-related services, The Hill reported.
Senate Democrats took issue with the Planned Parenthood restrictions, and the bill failed to clear a 60-vote procedural hurdle June 28. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., has vowed to bring up the measure for a second vote, NPR reported today (July 5).
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that “helping those infected with Zika virus should not be a culture war wedge issue.”
“It’s a scandal that taxpayer dollars support the profiteering of Planned Parenthood,” Moore said in written comments, “and there is nothing that its clinics provide in the fight against Zika that can’t be obtained through thousands of other local health clinics in every state. This is another example of how deeply entrenched the abortion lobby is in our national politics. We should be able to protect the health of the born without sacrificing the unborn.”
In adults, Zika generally results in no symptoms or mild symptoms. If contracted by pregnant women, however, it can lead to fetal microcephaly — a condition in which an unborn child’s brain does not develop properly, resulting in a smaller-than-normal head size and severe disabilities in some cases.
A French Polynesian study found first-trimester Zika infections pose the greatest risk, leading to babies with microcephaly in approximately 1 percent of cases, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reported. Zika can be transmitted to women sexually or through mosquitos, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada defended his party’s opposition to the bill by telling reporters some women have “no place else to go” but Planned Parenthood clinics, The Hill reported. Reid’s statements came at a press conference with Planned Parenthood Federation of America vice president Dawn Laguens.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, said that the Democrats’ affiliation with Planned Parenthood hurts the party.
“The Republicans are smart on this because they realize that a majority of Americans oppose abortion, and Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the nation,” Day said. “The Democrats have to realize that this position of continuing to defend abortion is actually causing us to be a minority party.”
Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said, “any money directed to Planned Parenthood is promoting abortions.” To combat Zika, women need accurate information and mosquito control — neither of which Planned Parenthood provides.
“Public health measures are the most important” aspect of Zika response, said Harrison, a board-certified OB/GYN. “Unfortunately, if monies go to Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood doesn’t do any of those things. What they do is abortion, and they’re driven to increase their profits. It would be better if federal funds would go to real, legitimate prevention measures.”
Harrison added it is “a completely false statement” to claim women in some areas of the U.S. have nowhere to turn for health care but Planned Parenthood. “There are federally qualified health care clinics all across the country. They are much more accessible than Planned Parenthood.”
Puerto Rico’s Zika response has been of particular interest in the debate, with Planned Parenthood’s seven affiliate clinics there ineligible to receive funds under the bill, according to information distributed by the National Right to Life Committee. Other women’s health care facilities are available on the island.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, called Planned Parenthood’s influence in blocking Zika legislation “yet another scandal,” referencing the undercover videos released in 2015 apparently showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of body parts from aborted babies.
“Pregnant women desperately need vaccines, mosquito control and other measures to prevent the virus’ spread,” Tobias said in a statement. “And they need it immediately. But Planned Parenthood is saying no. They’re demanding the bill be killed unless some of those emergency dollars are directed to clinics affiliated with, guess who — Planned Parenthood!
“But because the bill doesn’t earmark money for Planned Parenthood clinics, they asked their pro-abortion allies in the Senate Democratic caucus to block the bill by filibustering it. And shamefully, the Democrats did so, killing for now the emergency funding to halt the spread of the Zika virus,” Tobias said.
The bill, H.B. 2577, was passed by the House June 23.