The House of Representatives last night approved only $622 million in funding to help fight the Zika virus—less than one-third of the $1.9 billion the White House requested and only slightly more than half of what the Senate approved earlier this week.
Women leaders in the House heavily criticized the funding bill for being insufficient to address the public health threat. In a statement released before the vote, Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) implored Congress to “do its job by providing adequate funding to protect Americans, strengthen our public health infrastructure and continue research to create a vaccine.”
Instead, the House passed a funding bill that the White House criticized for being “a third of the level that our public health experts recommend.” The bill also reallocates money away from efforts to combat Ebola, a strategy that the Congresswomen called “short-sighted and dangerous.”
When asked at a press briefing if the White House were willing to compromise on the funding bill, White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest responded, “If our goal here is to protect the public health and well-being of the American people, if that is our top priority, then why wouldn’t we just do what our public health professionals suggest and pass the kind of proposal that they have said encapsulates the need?” Earnest called the House funding proposal, “a dumb approach.”
The Zika virus, which is typically transmitted through mosquito bites, has been linked to poor pregnancy outcomes, including microcephaly, a condition where the brain does not develop properly causing a newborn’s head to be smaller than expected. Microcephaly is linked to severe physical and intellectual developmental delays. The presence of the virus has raised the need for increased access to reproductive healthcare in impacted countries. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 544 travel-associated cases of Zika virus infection in the U.S.
Recognizing the need for more, not less, access to reproductive healthcare given the risks associated with Zika, the Congresswomen also opposed the House funding bill’s inclusion of language to restrict access to abortion: “By including Hyde language that denies access to abortions for women receiving Medicaid, women in the Peace Corps and military, federal workers and others, [the bill] continues discriminatory policies that deny women vital reproductive health care services based on their income, their insurance, and where they work.”
Last summer, Lee, Schakowsky, and DeGette introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, which would prevent politicians from interfering in insurance coverage for abortion.
The House version of the Zika funding bill passed 241-184, almost entirely along party lines. It will now have to be reconciled with the Senate’s $1.1 billion Zika spending package.