Zika Strikes America: Congress Shrugs


From CNN

Siri Yendluri, Special Features Editor

It’s happened again. Another epidemic has struck America, and as always, Congress is not responding.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported over 25,000 cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the United States, including Puerto Rico. The virus is known to cause birth defects in babies born to women exposed to the virus; in fact, at least 21 babies have been born with severe birth defects, including microcephaly. However, while the virus was originally reported to only affect fetuses, studies show that Zika also affects adult brain development.

So why hasn’t Congress voted to pass the $1.1 billion funding bill to battle the virus, especially since mosquito season doesn’t end until November?

Planned Parenthood.

But what does Planned Parenthood have to do with the Zika virus?

While Zika is carried by mosquitoes, it can also be transmitted through sexual contact. Planned Parenthood provides low-cost birth control to men and women that would help them protect themselves from Zika exposure, so the organization would receive some of the funding earmarked toward fighting the virus.

But Planned Parenthood also performs abortions, so Republicans placed a restriction in the funding bill that excludes the organization from receiving any money, even though it would help stop the spread of the virus. Democrats balked and refused to pass the legislation.

Though America is going through a public health crisis, Congress refuses to act promptly. Rather than focusing on the issue at hand, Republicans are using Zika as a political tactic to get what they have always wanted: to defund Planned Parenthood. By limiting access to contraceptives, Republicans are one step closer to this feat, thereby preventing access to legal abortions once and for all. The Zika issue seems to revolve around the long-standing battle for abortion rights than the prevention of the disease itself.  

Currently, the CDC is running out of funds and is unable to conduct studies on the virus or create vaccines. In fact, the only way the government protects us from the Zika virus is by spraying pesticides created in the 1950s. The in-fighting between Democrats and Republicans is hindering the only solution to the problem.

Mitch McConnell, Republican and Senate majority leader, blamed the Democrats for dragging their feet, telling the New York Times,, “It’s hard to explain why — despite their own calls for funding — Senate Democrats decided to block a bill that could help keep pregnant women and babies safer from Zika.”

However, the article went on to note, “Democrats regard any restriction on Planned Parenthood as setting a dangerous example, and they have shown they are willing to risk looking as if they are blocking funding for a public health crisis to prevent that precedent.”

The two parties have fought over women’s right of access to an abortion for a long time. Pro-life supporters, including the Catholic Church,  have long successfully protested the use of federal funds to support an organization that provides abortion care. And Title X of the Public Health Service Act passed in 1970 does not allow federal funds to Planned Parenthood to be used on abortions.

Therefore, Republicans already have restrictions on abortions in place. But by using the Zika issue as a way to end Planned Parenthood’s reign, they have also stopped prevention efforts such as providing birth control and creating vaccines. According to the CDC, Zika is already spreading across heavily populated states such as Florida, California, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania. Congress needs to act now.

Instead of focusing on the importance of funding studies on the virus, the representatives and senators we elected have decided to let the never-ending battle over women’s reproductive rights get in the way. America should not let a 1970s debate that probably will not end soon hinder funding to the CDC, especially during a public health crisis.