Playing politics with a public health crisis

Today, more than seven months too late, the Senate is set to vote on a bill to fund the fight against Zika in the United States. But instead of patting themselves on the back, anti-choice Republicans in the Senate should take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Let’s review.

In February, when President Obama originally requested funds to fight Zika, there were zero cases of the virus in the continental United States. As the virus spread and reached pandemic levels, it was incumbent on the GOP leadership to fund a comprehensive response to this crisis. Instead, they pushed their extreme ideology and put forward a legislative response that explicitly restricted funding for women’s healthcare. They did this despite the fact that Zika can be sexually transmitted and that women who wish to delay a pregnancy because of the risk of microcephaly are in need of family planning services. Following sound public health advice, Democrats rightly pushed for the inclusion of funding for family planning clinics, but the anti-choice GOP refused.

Now, after seven months of the anti-choice GOP playing politics — and using this funding bill as a vehicle in their ongoing war on women’s reproductive healthcare — there are more than 20,000 cases of Zika in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories, impacting nearly 2,000 pregnant women.

Let’s be clear: the bill that is set to be voted on today is not as robust as what the President requested more than seven months ago, but it does finally provide much needed funding to respond to Zika. The reason it took so long for Congress to act — while the public health crisis came to the U.S. — is because anti-choice Republicans spent seven months trying to use this legislation to advance their far-right-wing agenda.

This anti-choice, Republican-led Congress has failed to do much of anything to help working families because it is so committed to backward ideology. But when it comes to funding a response to a public health crisis that has directly impacted tens of thousands of Americans and put millions more at risk, the GOP’s ideological games around this bill have reached a shameful new low.

They played politics while people got sick. Plain and simple.

We need to give women and families every chance we can to choose whether, when, and with whom to have a family, especially when the potential side effects of Zika are so severe.

This is not just our opinion, either. Recent polling conducted by NARAL found that:

  • 85% of battleground voters want Congress to pass a plan to combat Zika that includes support for women’s healthcare clinics. There is wide support across party identification — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — and in every battleground state.
  • 59% of battleground voters are less likely to support their representative if they learn their representative voted to restrict funding for women’s healthcare during the spread of the Zika virus.
  • 64% of battleground voters are less likely to support their representative if they learn that he or she believes a pregnant woman should not have access to abortion even if she’s infected with Zika and learns her child will be born with severe birth defects.

Instead of insisting on blocking funding for family planning clinics, Republicans should have taken the advice of experts at the World Health Organization, USAID, and the CDC from the very beginning and expanded access to family planning resources. It’s what Americans want, and it’s what’s medically necessary.

Anti-choice Republicans aren’t just working against public health advice and the wishes of their constituents — they’re actively working against their own stated goals as well. The same anti-choice politicians who played politics with this bill hem and haw all the time about ‘protecting the unborn,’ but their actions put the health of the children that families may wish to have at risk.

During this fight, we saw where the anti-choice GOP’s priorities really lie. For these ideologues, putting up a political fight that flies in the face of public health recommendations was apparently more important than the health and safety of the next generation. It’s taken seven months for the GOP to take the Zika threat seriously but the impact of their decisions have affected us all. Women and families deserve better than a Congress that puts their politics before our health.

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