Planned Parenthood: Zika Shows 'Critical Need of Government Support for Sexual and Reproductive Health Care’

By Penny Starr | April 13, 2016 | 7:42am EDT
Chloe Cooney, director of Global Advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on April 12, 2016. ( Starr)

( – With dozens of states at risk for the mosquito-borne Zika virus, it is especially critical for the federal government to support sexual and reproductive health care, an official with Planned Parenthood Federation of America said on Tuesday.

“Zika has made a long-standing public health crisis impossible to ignore and demonstrates the critical need of government support for sexual and reproductive health care,” Chloe Cooney, director of global advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said at an event focused on the epidemic at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

“The ability to decide if and when to have children is basic health care, but it’s a basic human right as well, and yet it’s not realized for so many women across the region, which this outbreak is making so crystal clear,” Cooney said.

She noted that Latin America, one of the regions hardest hit by the virus, has “some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.”

Cooney also said that women with the least access to “reproductive health care” would suffer the most from the virus, including here in the United States.

“The same is going to be true in the contiguous United States as it becomes more prevalent here,” Cooney said. “Women with the least ability to plan their families -- the least access to health care generally -- will feel the impact of this outbreak the most.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), no Zika cases have originated in the U.S., but 346 “travel-associated” cases have been indentified in a majority of states, with Florida having the most (78), California the second most (29) and Florida with 27 confirmed cases.

Both Florida and Texas have passed laws barring taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, which is the nation’s largest abortion provider. Texas passed a law requiring requiring the same medical standards for abortion providers as are required for other surgical facilities, and that case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“And, in fact, if you look at the states that are already seeing the highest number of Zika cases – Florida and Texas – both are states that have recently slashed their reproductive health programs; Texas over a series of bills over the last several years, one of which is before the Supreme Court right now – and Florida just last month defunded Planned Parenthood,” Cooney said.

“So this is the opposite of what we need to be doing as we’re gearing up as a nation to tackle this epidemic as it comes home.”

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters at the White House on Monday that the virus is linked to a broad set of complications in pregnancy, not just microcephaly (stunted brain development) but also prematurity, blindness and "some other conditions."

"We've also learned that the virus is likely to be a problem at much of the pregnancy period, not just probably the first trimester, but potentially throughout the pregnancy," she said.

Although mosquito transmission is the most prevalent way of spreading the disease, experts now say the virus also appears to be spread through sexual contact.

The Zika virus is present in more than 30 countries and there is no medication to treat the virus, nor a vaccine to prevent it. The mosquitos that spread it are found in 30 states here.

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