National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

House approves $622M Zika funding bill with Hyde abortion restrictions; Senate blocks standalone measures

The House on Wednesday voted 241-184 to pass a bill (HR 5243) that would provide $622 million to address the Zika virus in the United States, Reuters reports.

The amount is well under the $1.9 billion requested by the Obama administration (Beech/Cowan, Reuters, 5/18).

Background on Zika

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that has spread across Latin America over the past year. Researchers recently learned that Zika can also be transmitted through sexual activity. The virus is not easily diagnosed, and it does not have a cure or vaccine. It is linked to the birth defect microcephaly, a condition in which an infant is born with an abnormally small head and brain. The condition is fatal for some infants, while others experience permanent disabilities.

Officials in Brazil and Honduras have issued guidance recommending that women avoid pregnancy. El Salvador's recommendation is that women not get pregnant until 2018. However, many countries in Latin America restrict access to contraception and often ban abortion. In addition, women have been advised to protect themselves against mosquitos, but insect repellant can be unaffordable for low-income women.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak and its link to microcephaly a public health emergency of international concern. Separately, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement directing nations affected by the Zika virus to remove bans on access to sexual and reproductive health care services.

White House calls for funding

Amid congressional delays on the funding requests, a senior administration official last month said the administration would transfer more than $500 million in funding allocated to combating the Ebola virus to Zika response efforts. CDC this month announced that it will allocate more than $85 million to U.S. states and territories to combat the Zika virus.

Federal health officials said they are not expecting a widespread outbreak of the virus in the United States. According to CDC, more than 1,200 Zika virus cases were reported in the United States and its territories from January 2015 to May 11, 2016.

Earlier this week, the Senate voted 68-29 to advance an amendment (SA 3900) that would provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding for efforts to address the Zika virus. The proposal would finance Zika efforts through Sept. 30, 2017 (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/18). The amendment does not require the government to offset the funding allocations with spending cuts elsewhere.

House advances funding proposal

The House on Wednesday approved its Zika funding proposal, which would fund U.S. response efforts through September (Ferris, The Hill, 5/18). The measure would mandate that the funding be offset by spending cuts in other areas (Reuters, 5/18).

On Tuesday, the White House threatened to veto the measure, calling it an inadequate response to the Zika virus. In a statement, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, "It is woefully insufficient given the significant risk that is posed by Zika," adding, "The House of Representatives is three months late and more than a billion short of doing what's necessary to protect the American people" (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/18).

According to Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) -- chair of the House Appropriations Committee's Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee -- the House will provide additional funding for Zika response efforts in the annual appropriations bill, which applies to the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2016 (Diamond, Politico Pro, 5/19 [subscription required]).

Cole did not specify the final amount, but he indicated the "very, very substantial" allocation would include "hundreds of millions" of dollars for response efforts. Noting that he hopes the additional funding will help prevent internal disagreements over Zika funding between conservative lawmakers in the House and Senate, Cole said the overall amount would "be very comparable" to the Senate's proposal (Ferris, The Hill, 5/18).

Abortion restrictions

According to The Hill, both the House and Senate proposals include language from the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funding for most abortion care.

Members of the House Pro-Choice Caucus indicated their opposition to the House bill's restrictions, stating, "By including Hyde language that denies access to abortions for women receiving Medicaid, women in the Peace Corps and military, federal workers and others, it continues discriminatory policies that deny women vital reproductive health care services based on their income, their insurance, and where they work" (Sullivan, The Hill, 5/18).

Standalone proposals face conservative opposition

In related news, conservative lawmakers in the Senate on Wednesday opposed efforts to include Zika funding in standalone legislation, The Hill's "Floor Action" reports (Carney, "Floor Action," The Hill, 5/18).

According to Politico Pro, the Zika funding approved earlier this week in the Senate was included as an amendment to a larger appropriations bill. The underlying bill faces obstacles to passage unrelated to the funding for Zika response efforts.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked conservative lawmakers in the Senate to support a standalone measure with the same amount of funding in an effort to fast-track the legislation (Politico Pro, 5/19). She said, "There is no reason to keep it attached to [the appropriations bill] and allow House [conservatives] to get it and slow walk it to the fall."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) rejected Murray's request, as well as a proposal from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that would have funded President Obama's request in full. Reid, who earlier this week met with White House officials, noted "they desperately need this money" ("Floor Action," The Hill, 5/18).