CHICAGO –(ENEWSPF)–July 5, 2016. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with maternal fetal medicine, infectious disease, and public health specialists to discuss the growing threat posed by the Zika virus. More than four months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requested emergency funding to develop a vaccine and fight the spread of the deadly virus, but after months of delay from Congressional Republicans, not one dollar of additional funding has reached them. Durbin called on Congress to act this week and finally approve a bipartisan emergency funding bill.
In mid-May, Durbin voted in favor of an emergency funding bill that passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support to fund Zika control efforts, vaccine research, and health care services for pregnant women. But during a conference committee to resolve bill differences with the House of Representatives, it was loaded with poison pill provisions that would, among other things, slash environmental regulations and block funding for Planned Parenthood, which would prevent family planning clinics from accessing funds they use to help the very people most at risk from Zika virus.
“Zika is a real public health emergency and it is only getting worse as the temperatures rise and summer travel season begins. It is unacceptable that some in Congress are politicizing disaster response with extreme and unnecessary partisan priorities. Now is not the time for playing politics with sham votes attempting to defund Planned Parenthood and roll back environmental protections,” Durbin said. “I hope common sense will prevail when we return to Washington this week. We need to come together on a bipartisan basis and pass a responsible and clean bill that helps our nation protect pregnant women and babies from this potentially devastating virus.”
In the months since the CDC and NIH asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to prepare for and combat this emerging public health crisis, the House and Senate each passed dramatically different Zika bills. While the Senate passed a $1.1 billion bill with bipartisan support by a vote of 89-8, the House passed a paltry $622 million bill on a party line vote. Conferees were appointed earlier this month, but negotiations fell apart when Republicans insisted on controversial offsets. Specifically, Republicans have inserted ideological provisions into what should be a bipartisan response to the Zika virus that would limit funding for providers of birth control services, weaken clean water protections by waiving portions of the Clean Water Act, divert resources from the ongoing overseas Ebola control and response effort, and more.
More than 2,960 people in the U.S. have been infected with Zika – including more than 500 pregnant women, and 23 people in Illinois. To date, seven infants have been born with Zika-related birth defects on the U.S. mainland and five pregnancies have ended because of Zika-related birth defects.