On September 6, Congress again failed to approve a federal response to the Zika virus after Republicans included a legislative “poison pill” designed to exclude Planned Parenthood from receiving funding. In spite of the essential role Planned Parenthood plays in Zika response and prevention, media framed the controversy as an example of Democratic obstruction. Here’s what the media are missing about the Zika funding controversy.
Congress Again Fails To Approving Funding For A Federal Response To The Zika Virus
Wash. Post: Republicans “Were Eager To Make A Political Point By Forcing Democrats To Once More Block Zika Legislation.” Following the failed September 6 vote, The Washington Post explained that Republicans “were eager to make a political point by forcing Democrats to once more block Zika legislation.” The Post wrote that Republicans’ obstruction was particularly egregious as it came in the face of “intense pressure to pass a funding agreement before the end of September” when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predicts it “will run out of money to continue its efforts to combat the spread of Zika.” From The Washington Post:
Senate Democrats on Tuesday for the third time in two months blocked a $1.1 billion legislative package to help fight the Zika virus, but lawmakers in both parties said they now hope negotiations will begin in earnest to quickly come up with a bipartisan deal to address the potential public health crisis.
Congress is under intense pressure to pass a funding agreement before the end of September when Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden estimates his agency will run out of money to continue its efforts to combat the spread of Zika, which can cause birth defects. After months of bickering over the details of a deal, many in Congress expect that lawmakers now back in Washington after a seven-week break will feel a renewed urgency to find a solution this month before heading home for the elections.
Before those negotiations begin in earnest, however, Senate Republicans on Tuesday were eager to make a political point by forcing Democrats to once more block Zika legislation that passed the House earlier this year. [The Washington Post, 9/6/16]
Media Blamed Democrats For Blocking The Bill But Downplayed Republicans’ Anti-Planned Parenthood Rider
WSJ: Democrats Are Blocking Zika Funding “Over A Phantom Affront To The Abortion Lobby” To Use The Fight “As Political Ammunition.” In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal accused Democrats of using the Zika fight “as political ammunition” to benefit Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy, by giving him a platform to attack his opponent, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). The Wall Street Journal described Democrats’ objection to the Republican poison pill as “a transparent falsehood that even the dumbest Democrats aren’t dumb enough to believe.” Instead, the outlet argued, Democrats were merely cloaking their political maneuvering for Murphy by “holding up” Zika funding “over a phantom affront to the abortion lobby.” From The Wall Street Journal:
Maybe Democrats aren’t so confident anymore about retaking the Senate in a romp. This would explain why they’d rather reserve the Zika crisis as political ammunition for the campaign than pass the bipartisan $1.1 billion bill to wipe out the mosquito-borne virus that can cause birth defects.
A Zika funding bill passed the Senate 89-8 in May, with the support of every Democrat, but then Harry Reid ambushed the House-Senate compromise conference report, which has passed the House and can’t be amended. The decoy that Democrats settled on for this double cross is that the bill “bans” Zika money from flowing to Planned Parenthood and its ProFamilias affiliate in Puerto Rico. This is a transparent falsehood that even the dumbest Democrats aren’t dumb enough to believe.
The intended beneficiary of this obstruction appears to be Patrick Murphy, the House Democrat who is challenging Marco Rubio for the Florida Senate seat. “We can’t keep putting ideology above the health and safety of Florida families,” Mr. Murphy said Tuesday.
You almost have to admire the political nerve. Mr. Rubio voted in favor of the bill to boost Zika funding. Mr. Murphy voted against it in the House, and Florida’s other Senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, joined the filibuster. As for ideology, Democrats are holding up everything else in the bill—from Zika vaccine development to mosquito eradication—over a phantom affront to the abortion lobby. Do the goddesses of Planned Parenthood now have to be cited, if not exalted, in every bill as a precondition for passage? [The Wall Street Journal, 9/8/16]
The Weekly Standard: Instead Of Passing Zika Funding, “Democrats Have Seized The Opportunity To Mischaracterize” The Bill And “Play Political Games.” The Weekly Standard accused Democrats of trying to “play political games” with Zika funding after they rejected a version of the bill with Republicans’ anti-Planned Parenthood rider. A September 8 article by Alice B. Lloyd alleged that Democrats’ objections were baseless because the funding bill wasn’t taking money away from Planned Parenthood, but rather “it would simply not send any new money their way.” As Lloyd wrote, “Democrats seized the opportunity to mischaracterize” the Republicans’ provision and “intensify the same stalemate” from the previous Zika votes:
For the third time in two months, Senate Democrats blocked $1.1 billion in federal funding to fight the Zika virus on Tuesday. In voting down legislation to combat the imminent public health emergency posed by Zika, Democrats complained that Republicans slipped in a “poison pill” provision to limit funds to Planned Parenthood.
Ideally, in times of emergency, a minority party in Congress wouldn't play political games, but would instead accept such a bill that neither indulges nor expressly threatens its interests. Instead, Democrats have seized the opportunity to mischaracterize the bill and intensify the same stalemate from June 28, the last time funding to combat Zika failed in Congress. [The Weekly Standard, 9/8/16]
Breitbart News: “Democrats Are Blocking” Zika Funding While Planned Parenthood Has Taken Advantage “To Drum Up Business For Itself.” A September 7 article by Susan Berry for Breitbart News alleged that “Democrats are blocking” Zika funding for Planned Parenthood’s political gain. To support this, Berry quoted Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, who claimed that “Democrats are putting more women and children at risk for Zika by blocking aid funding in order to secure a bigger handout for Planned Parenthood.” Breitbart also accused Planned Parenthood of taking advantage of the political stalemate “to drum up business for itself” and alleged that the organization’s “larger agenda” was “to promote abortion among women” concerned about Zika’s impact on their pregnancy. From Breitbart News:
For a third time, Senate Democrats are blocking the approval of a bill that would provide $1.1 billion to help in the fight against the Zika virus.
Meanwhile, abortion business Planned Parenthood has seen the Zika scare as an opportunity to drum up business for itself at a time when it’s (sic) popularity has slumped due to a recent undercover video series exposing the organization’s alleged practices of selling the body parts of aborted babies for profit and even altering the position of babies during abortion in order to maximize chances for the harvesting of intact organs. The larger agenda is to promote abortion among women who fear their unborn babies may be born with microcephaly, a birth defect that has been prevalent in some areas that have experienced Zika outbreaks.
“Senate Democrats are putting more women and children at risk for Zika by blocking aid funding in order to secure a bigger handout for Planned Parenthood,” SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser says.
“Planned Parenthood and their allies are inciting panic and using this moment to promote abortion rather than promoting what’s best for women and children,” she continues. “They are ill-equipped to respond to the threats facing pregnant women and babies infected with the virus, yet Senate Democrats are holding up funding for comprehensive health care providers. Why? Because Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby bankroll their campaigns.” [Breitbart News, 9/7/16]
Politico: “Lack Of Funding Is Already Hurting Efforts” To Address Zika As “Democrats … Blocked The GOP’s $1.1 Billion Bill.” Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn wrote that although a “lack of funding is already hurting efforts” to address Zika, “Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked the GOP’s $1.1 billion bill.” In the September 6 article, Haberkorn quoted multiple Republican lawmakers such as speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) who cast blame for the bill’s failure on Democrats’ political obstruction. For example, according to Barrasso, “The Democrats need to wake up and vote the right way to get this passed because the money is running out.” [Politico, 9/6/16]
The Daily Signal: Planned Parenthood Is “Limited In The Services They Can Provide In The Fight Against Zika,” So Republicans Are Merely “Arguing Against Giving” Them More Money. In a September 6 article, The Daily Signal alleged that Republicans were merely “arguing against giving” the reproductive health organization more money because Planned Parenthood’s clinics are “limited in the services they can provide in the fight against Zika.” Although in reality, Planned Parenthood is an essential part of a comprehensive federal Zika response, The Daily Signal justified Republicans’ anti-Planned Parenthood rider by arguing that Democrats were needlessly obstructing funding over inclusion of the e reproductive care organization. From The Daily Signal:
After Congress failed to pass a Zika funding bill due in part to disagreements over restricting funds from going to Planned Parenthood, pressure is on for lawmakers to reach a deal this month to address the growing crisis.
But prospects for an agreement remain bleak, with Republicans standing firm on their belief that Planned Parenthood does not need more funding to contribute to the fight against the Zika virus, and Democrats insisting that they do.
In reality, clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions, are limited in the services they can provide in the fight against Zika.
Some health care experts warned Congress that stripping Planned Parenthood of its taxpayer dollars could hurt the millions of patients the organization serves each year.
This time around, however, Republicans aren’t asking to take away money from the nation’s largest abortion provider—they’re arguing against giving it more. [The Daily Signal, 9/6/16]
Wash. Examiner: Republicans Tried To Pass Zika Funding, While A“Democratic Filibuster Marks The Third Time Party Lawmakers Have Stood In The Way.” After the failed Zika vote, the Washington Examiner characterized the controversy as Democratic obstruction. In a September 6 article, the outlet argued that “Republicans tried yet again to get the 60 votes needed” while the “Democratic filibuster marks the third time party lawmakers have stood in the way”:
Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a $1.1 billion Zika funding measure for the third time, a move that is expected to trigger new negotiations to author a bipartisan bill aimed at combating the mosquito-transmitted virus that is spreading in Florida.
Senate Republicans tried yet again to get the 60 votes needed to end debate on the bill and call it up for a final vote, but fell short 52-46 as Democrats voted against it. The Democratic filibuster marks the third time party lawmakers have stood in the way of the GOP-authored bill. [Washington Examiner, 9/6/16]
NY Times: “Democrats Again Stymied A $1.1 Billion Plan To Fight The Zika Virus” Over Demands That “Republicans Drop An Effort” To Exclude Planned Parenthood. In September 6 article, The New York Times blamed Democrats for obstructing Zika funding. According to the Times, “Democrats again stymied a $1.1 billion plan to fight the Zika virus” over demands that “Republicans drop an effort” to exclude Planned Parenthood from accessing response funds. The Times included a quote from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said, “It’s hard to explain why, despite their own calls for funding, Democrats would block plans to keep women and babies safe from Zika.” From The New York Times:
As Congress returned from a seven-week recess on Tuesday, Senate Democrats again stymied a $1.1 billion plan to fight the Zika virus, demanding that Republicans drop an effort to block Planned Parenthood from receiving money to combat the mosquito-borne disease.
Democrats, who had essentially blocked the same legislation in late June, had enough votes Tuesday to prevent Congress from moving emergency funding public health experts say is desperately needed as they prepare for the possibility that Zika will spread to other states along the gulf coast. The vote was 52 to 46, and Republicans needed 60 votes to advance the bill.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, said that although efforts to fight the virus had produced encouraging results, the problem was far from over.
“It’s hard to explain why, despite their own calls for funding, Democrats would block plans to keep women and babies safe from Zika,” Mr. McConnell said before the vote.
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 New York Times, 9/6/16]
What Media Are Missing About Planned Parenthood And The Controversy Over Zika Funding
1. Access To Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care And Planned Parenthood Is Essential For The Zika Response
ABC News: Experts Agree That Planned Parenthood Is An Essential Resource For “Low-Income Women” To Help “Guard Against Unintended Pregnancies In The Face Of The Zika Threat.” Before the Senate’s most recent vote, ABC News highlighted the threat cuts to Florida Planned Parenthood affiliates could have on the Zika response in the state. In an August 5 article, ABC News noted that Planned Parenthood provides essential services to “low-income women” that can help “guard against unintended pregnancies in the face of the Zika threat.” The article quoted American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologist president and CEO Dr. Hal Lawrence, who explained the significant role Planned Parenthood plays in the Zika response. According to Lawrence, Planned Parenthood has long “provided ongoing well-woman services and contraceptives to millions … and has been oftentimes the best access for some underprivileged women to get access to contraception.” From ABC News:
The state funding cut to Planned Parenthood health centers in Florida was at least temporarily halted through a court order on June 30. But some medical experts worry that if the court's preliminary injunction on a new state law ordering the cut is ultimately overturned and the law takes effect, low-income women who depend on Planned Parenthood for health care could be at greater risk for contracting the Zika virus and passing it along to their unborn children.
Dr. Hal Lawrence, president and CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said he is concerned that a funding cut to Planned Parenthood clinics could give low-income women less access to birth control that can help them guard against unintended pregnancies in the face of the Zika threat.
“Planned Parenthood for decades has provided ongoing well-woman services and contraceptives to millions of women in the U.S. and has been oftentimes the best access for some underprivileged women to get access to contraception,” Lawrence said. Noting that approximately half of all pregnancies are unplanned, he said reducing access to birth control could increase the number of unintended pregnancies among women exposed to Zika through travel, sexual contact, or the new local outbreak. [ABCNews.com, 8/5/16]
Miami Herald: Planned Parenthood Has Launched A Campaign “To Spread The Word About Zika Prevention” In Areas Where Women “May Not Have Been Reached” Yet. As Alex Harris reported for the Miami Herald, in Florida, Planned Parenthood “has been preparing for the [Zika] virus for months” by educating patients about the disease, discussing how it spreads and talking about methods of prevention. In late August, Planned Parenthood launched a campaign “to spread the word about Zika prevention”by having staff go “door-to-door in areas where large groups of reproductive-age women live … [who] may not have been reached by state or federal Zika education efforts.” [Miami Herald, 8/24/16]
2. Republicans Are Playing Politics By Inserting Legislative Poison Pills
Republicans’ Anti-Planned Parenthood Rider “Forced The Democrats To Block The Bill” And Shows “Cutting Funding For Affordable Contraception … Is The Major Republican Priority.” Salon’s Amanda Marcotte explained the larger context of the Democrats’ move to reject Zika funding that excluded Planned Parenthood. According to Marcotte, in spite of warnings from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about needing to incorporate comprehensive reproductive health care into the Zika response, Republicans “yet again slipped an anti-contraception rider” onto the latest funding bill. She continued that this rider “forced the Democrats to block the bill” and said it demonstrates that “cutting funding for affordable contraception for low income women” and attacking Planned Parenthood “is the major Republican priority.” From Salon:
As most of the media is riveted to the presidential election, Democrats and Republicans continue to battle it out in the escalating war between the parties over contraception and other reproductive health care access. Cutting funding for affordable contraception for low income women remains a major Republican priority — this week suggests it is the major Republican priority — but Democrats are fighting back, and hard.
The headline-grabbing news this week is that Republicans have yet again slipped an anti-contraception rider to a bill that’s supposed to be about funding efforts to fight the Zika virus, even though the CDC advises that the public needs “access to the full range of contraceptive methods to prevent unintended pregnancy is an important way to prevent Zika-related birth defects.” The move forced the Democrats to block the bill again, and demand one that funds contraception services at Planned Parenthood, the organization that is the best equipped in the country to distribute contraception safely and effectively. [Salon, 9/9/16]
Salon: Media Are Missing That “It Is Republicans Who Have Made Zika Funding The Latest Hostage To Their Crusade To Defund Planned Parenthood.” Salon’s Daniel Denvir wrote, “The media is shamelessly misleading the public about who's to blame in D.C. over the stalled Zika bill.” Denvir criticized a September 6 New York Times headline blaming Democrats for obstructing Zika funding. He argued that in reality, “Democrats are happy to support funding the Zika fight” while “It is Republicans who have made Zika funding the latest hostage to their crusade to defund Planned Parenthood.” Denvir argued that in spite of expert opinion that “reproductive health should be considered a basic feature of normal health care,” the force “holding up the passage of Zika funding is that Republicans want to ensure that it’s not.” From Salon:
What liberal media? Nowhere is the false balance of mainstream media reporting more apparent than in coverage of the relentless Republican obstruction in Congress.
The latest episode: Republicans are refusing to pass a $1.1 billion package to fight the Zika virus unless it blocks Planned Parenthood from receiving funding. Yesterday’s New York Times print headline? “Senate Democrats Again Stymie Funding for Zika.”
This is false. Democrats are happy to support funding the Zika fight, which might soon run out of money for crucial measures like mosquito-control programs in Puerto Rico. It is Republicans who have made Zika funding the latest hostage to their crusade to defund Planned Parenthood.
Balance is often false because facts have a bias. Sometimes, reporters try to split the baby, suggesting that both parties have equal blame for gridlock even when this is untrue. (From June: “Whichever side is more to blame, it was clear that no new government funds would be approved to fight the Zika . . .”). In this case, however, The Times is apparently accepting the Republican premise that stigmatizing reproductive health as something other than a basic part of medicine is somehow related to Zika. It’s not.
According to the relevant experts at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, reproductive health should be considered a basic feature of normal health care. What’s holding up the passage of Zika funding is that Republicans want to ensure that it’s not. [Salon, 9/8/16]