Republicans Battle Planned Parenthood, Not Zika

When you elect ideologues who don’t believe in science, stuff like this can happen:

“We haven’t heard about any [Zika] kits,” says Laura Goodhue, a vice president at Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida. Planned Parenthood hasn’t received any Zika kits from the Florida Department of Health, nor has it received any guidance from the department about how to serve pregnant women during a possible outbreak. […]

A big part of the defense against infection for women in Florida appears to be the Zika prevention kits and OB-GYN outreach, but the Scott administration’s strategy is unclear. The Planned Parenthood affiliate operates three clinics in Miami-Dade County, which has the fourth-highest uninsured rate in the country, and another just over the border in Broward County. The women’s health care organization serves tens of thousands of people per year, many of whom are low-income and without insurance—and more likely to get pregnant by accident. As Laura Goodhue notes, they have not received a single kit.

A spokesperson for Today’s Women Medical Centers, which offers family planning, prenatal, and abortion services, also said her clinic has not heard from Gov. Scott’s office or the state Department of Health about what help to offer women facing Zika. They also do not have CDC Zika prevention kits.

Florida state law HB 1411 is currently being litigated in Federal District Court, but it has a provision that “denies state funding to any organization that performs elective abortions, even for non-abortion services.”

This is a Republican-sponsored bill that passed through the legislature last year and was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott. Among the non-abortion services that Planned Parenthood provides are family planning (essentially, helping women avoid unwanted pregnancies) and pre-natal care (the kind of care that can detect problems or abnormalities in the developing fetus). These are crucial tools that woman and couples particularly need when they are living in an area with an outbreak of the Zika virus.

We don’t even need to get to the morality of aborting a fetus that has microcephaly to understand that South Florida needs a well-funded Plannned Parenthood now more than ever.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an unprecedented travel warning Monday, advising pregnant women and their partners not to travel to a small community just north of downtown Miami, where Zika is actively circulating. This is the first time the CDC has warned people not to travel to an American neighborhood for fear of catching an infectious disease, according to agency spokesman Tom Skinner.

This week, 11 additional people in Florida were found to have been infected with Zika virus after being bitten by local mosquitoes, bringing the total to 15.

New cases were found by door-to-door surveys of 200 people in their homes and businesses, and they were identified by urine and blood samples that tested positive for the virus or an antibody.

As for Congress, first they low-balled the president by offering less than a third of the money he requested for preventing the kind of outbreak we are now witnessing in Puerto Rico and Florida, and then they did this:

Yet lawmakers left Washington in mid-July for a seven-week recess without approving any of the $1.9 billion that Obama requested in February to develop a vaccine and control the mosquitoes that carry the virus.

Abortion politics played a central role in the impasse.

Republicans angered Democrats by adding a provision to a $1.1 billion take-it-or-leave-it measure that would have blocked Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money.

I don’t know, I thought the Republicans were supposed to care about the unborn, but apparently they don’t give the first shit about them.

Not only did they not give the president the money he requested, but the strings they attached to the sum they eventually offered are uniquely designed to result in deformed pregnancies and babies that lack normal sized heads and fully developed brains.

If that doesn’t make you furious, maybe this will:

President Obama on Thursday sought to pressure congressional Republicans over the issue, encouraging voters to “call your members of Congress and tell them to do their job.”

“The money that we need to fight Zika is rapidly running out. The situation is getting critical,” Obama said at a news conference…

…Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell warned lawmakers on Wednesday that her Zika budget is running out quickly. Without more money soon, she said, the “nation’s ability to effectively respond to Zika will be impaired.”

Burwell’s letter sought to counter Republicans who’ve criticized the Obama administration for not using several hundred million dollars already in the budget for Zika prevention. The money was initially allotted for fighting Ebola but was redirected to address Zika.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Tuesday that’s there’s no excuse for not spending money that Congress has provided. “Why are they holding that money back?” he asked.

So, let’s not pretend that Marco Rubio cares about anything other than scoring political points, okay?

And, how about the Republican leaders in Congress? They’re stilling hiding behind the Democrats’ refusal to disempower Planned Parenthood rather than empower them to deal with the crisis.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, writing in USA Today on Thursday, did not mention that provision in blaming Democrats for blocking the legislation. Their obstruction, according to Ryan (R-Wis.), is “a blatant ploy in an election year.”

Also Thursday, 47 Senate Democrats called on Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reconvene Congress and immediately address the Zika threat. They faulted GOP leaders for allowing “poison pill special-interest priorities” into the bill.

But McConnell has signaled he is in no rush to return. Writing in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader on Monday, he criticized Democrats for balking at passing the bill. He said they’ll get another chance after Labor Day when Congress is back in session.

So, you have a perfect storm. A Republican governor with a Republican state legislature and a Republican Congress in Washington are all more concerned about doctored video tapes that falsely malign Planned Parenthood (and that led to a massacre in Colorado) than they are about the unborn babies and mothers and fathers who will be devastated by the Zika virus. So, we have a viral outbreak and the collective response of the GOP is to try to use the crisis as a opportunity to extort the destruction of our first line of defense.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.