After a failed Senate vote on Thursday and the beginning of a seven-week recess on Capitol Hill, a stalemate over proposed funding cuts to Planned Parenthood has stalled $1B in Zika funding. In their latest act of political theater, House Republicans rejected a bipartisan Senate bill, instead inserting clauses restricting funding from Planned Parenthood, a measure which Democrats rejected twice.
Without funding, the first human trials in search of a vaccine have been put on hold. The places hardest hit by the lack of funding will be those that are already the most underfunded, such as towns where a single public sector worker might be placed on mosquito control duty. The spread of the Zika virus is a widely acknowledged public health emergency. The primary cause for alarm is Zika’s causal link to microcephaly, a congenital birth defect in which a baby’s head and brain are not fully developed, leading to a wide range of developmental symptoms, including some that are life-threatening. According to the CDC, nearly 3,000 people in the US territories have already been infected with the disease, including nearly 300 pregnant women.
With no known treatment or vaccine, and the possibility of transmission by both mosquito bite and sexual activity, the summer holds grim prospects for pregnant women and those planning to conceive. Providing affordable access to prenatal screening and family planning services, which Planned Parenthood offers around the country, would appear to be a no-brainer. However, this was apparently too much to expect of Congressional Republicans. Short of asking women not to get pregnant until 2018, as some countries have done, US lawmakers have demonstrated once again their primary preoccupation with political grandstanding over saving actual human lives.