Zika Bill Was a No-Win Situation for Senate Democrats


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The Senate’s got a bug problem.

“DEMOCRATS DON’T CARE about fighting Zika.”

That’s the message headlines are spouting in the wake of a failed bill — bearing the clumsy title of “Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. 2017 and Zika Response and Preparedness Act” — blocked by Senate Democrats after it passed the House. The proposed legislation would have allocated “$1.1 billion for domestic and international efforts to fight the Zika virus and prevent it from spreading.”

But that so-called Zika bill was a no-win situation for Senate Democrats, thanks to the inclusion of several “irresponsible” provisions, which have given the GOP infinite opportunities to spin the story in the media. Hence the headlines, and the outrage.

Republicans crafted the bill without input from across the aisle. Among the many outrageous additions were stipulations that would allow the Confederate flag to fly at military cemeteries, loosen environmental regulations, gut funding for the Affordable Care Act, and exclude Planned Parenthood and similar clinics from receiving its support. The House version of the bill may be read here.

Perhaps the most insulting thing about the Zika bill is that the GOP tied it to legislation regarding military and veterans spending. Not only are women required to register for the draft at a time when they are denied control over their bodies, but Republican politicians see fit to link a health crisis that affects women and their families to a bill regarding veterans care.

It’s no secret that the U.S. has an abysmal record when it comes to issues affecting its veterans. The country is home to the world’s largest military, but the Department of Veterans Affairs — which provides benefits and medical care to former servicemembers — remains underfunded by hundreds of millions. Additionally, veterans make up almost 9 percent of the United States’ homeless population, and large percentages of former servicemembers return home with PTSD.

At the time of this writing, nearly 3,000 Zika cases have been reported in U.S. states and territories. More than 500 of those cases involve pregnant women. The country has already seen several babies born with Zika-related microcephaly. Only five states remain Zika-free.

The vast majority of Zika cases in U.S. territories have been locally transmitted: spread by infection-carrying mosquitoes. The CDC attributes the remaining cases, including those in the states, to travel in Zika-affected areas outside the country, or to sex with an infected partner. Officials expect to see the number of locally-transmitted cases rise as summer goes on, however, which means we’re likely to see and hear a whole lot more about the Zika virus in the coming months.

Though we are still in the early stages of researching the Zika virus, its very nature makes funding Planned Parenthood all the more important. Much like other STDs, Zika often presents with no serious symptoms at all. Infected individuals may not know they have contracted the virus, and those who do not use barrier methods of contraception — monogamous couples, say, or people who wish to become pregnant — risk passing it along to their partners.

Each year, millions of U.S. citizens receive education, counseling, and care from Planned Parenthood clinics. One in five U.S. women will visit a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime. Of the 2.5 million individuals who walk through Planned Parenthood’s doors annually, a whopping 80 percent come for “services to prevent unintended pregnancy.” That adds up to 579,000 prevented pregnancies every year.

If presented with federal funding, Planned Parenthood could educate millions of women about Zika prevention and provide them with related information about birth control. Clinics could also offer Zika testing, which is currently quite difficult to get — unless you are already pregnant. And although only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are related to termination procedures, access to safe and legal abortion is essential in the fight against Zika.

All this would allow women — the country’s most vulnerable women, in particular — to make informed decisions about managing their fertility in the wake of the Zika virus. Republicans’ pointed mismanagement of a single military spending bill has made that impossible.

Furthermore, Republicans have no intention of revisiting Zika research and prevention in legislation. From Politico:

Democrats are now calling for the GOP to reopen the Zika negotiations entirely, but Republicans say there will be no do-over: Once the bill fails on Tuesday, the Senate will not revisit Zika funding, [Senate Majority Whip John] Cornyn said. They say Democrats got what they wanted and won’t take yes for the answer.

Now, armed with headlines like the one above, conservatives and anti-choice propagandists want us to believe that Senate Democrats don’t care about fighting the Zika virus. Had the bill passed, we’d have seen headlines about “hypocritical” liberals gutting their pet programs to research a rare disease affecting foreign countries. This was a no-win situation, but Senate Democrats — rightly — sided with women on a women’s health issue.