In a September 14 editorial, the Tampa Bay Times called out congressional inaction on funding a federal response to the Zika virus and argued that it was time for conservatives to quit politicking and “get [the job] done.”
The fight to pass Zika funding in Congress has been fraught with political arguments. On September 6, Congress failed for the third time to pass a Zika funding bill after Republicans included a legislative “poison pill” designed to exclude Planned Parenthood. Despite the crucial role Planned Parenthood has already played, and would continue to play, in responding to Zika, Republicans have attempted to score political points by cutting the provider out of the federal response.
For Florida communities, a federal Zika response cannot come soon enough: NBC News recently reported that the state has already confirmed 70 cases of the Zika virus.
As the multiple funding attempts have failed, Florida’s editorial boards have called on lawmakers to put politics aside, quit attacking Planned Parenthood, and authorize an increasingly necessary federal Zika response. The Tampa Bay Times reprised this argument and explicitly called on conservatives to approve the latest deal on the table, which reportedly would drop the language excluding Planned Parenthood from Zika prevention funding.
According to the Times, the initial funding plan “should have been easy to pass, but Congress never misses a chance to inject partisanship into governing” as evidenced by “House Republicans attach[ing] provisions to the funding bill that were deal breakers for Democrats -- namely cutting off money to Planned Parenthood." The Times additionally criticized Republican Gov. Rick Scott for turning a nonpartisan opportunity to lobby for a federal Zika response into a platform to attack Florida’s Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, “for voting against earlier Zika bills that cut money to Planned Parenthood” claiming he had “turned the back on Floridians.” The editorial concluded that this “the governor's self-serving tour isn't helping Floridians, and his shot at the Democrat he may run against in 2018 was unnecessary.”
In a September 13 article, the Times’ Alex Leary reported that despite calls for bipartisanship, Scott’s attack on Nelson and other Democrats revealed that “politics were on display … overshadowing the possibility of a breakthrough on funding.” Leary called the “political jab” a “bold move for Scott,” who made the remark on the same day that “frustrated Florida lawmakers attempted a more cohesive approach to the issue” by gathering together at a bipartisan press conference.
Anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media have frequently blamed Democrats for stalling Zika funding over the anti-Planned Parenthood rider. In reality, the reproductive health organization is an essential resource in addressing the spread of the virus.
In an August statement to ABC News, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) president and CEO Dr. Hal Lawrence explained Planned Parenthood’s significant role in helping communities respond to Zika. 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.” Given the sexually transmitted nature of Zika and its impact on pregnant persons, ACOG further determined that “full access to the most complete range of reproductive options,” which includes contraception and abortion, is essential to address its spread.
Beyond providing necessary health services, Planned Parenthood has already launched a public education campaign to raise awareness about the Zika virus and ways to mitigate its spread. As Alex Harris reported for the Miami Herald, Planned Parenthood staff have been going “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.”
In a September 8 article, Salon’s Daniel Denvir wrote that despite right-wing media’s insistence otherwise, “It is Republicans who have made Zika funding the latest hostage to their crusade to defund Planned Parenthood.” Going into the next phase of negotiations over a federal Zika response, Republicans have another chance. As the Tampa Bay Times editorial board concluded: “The deal in the works now will not make up for months of lawmakers' willful inaction, but it will provide the crucial ingredient for fighting Zika: money.”