My Turn: While Zika threat rises,Ayotte is playing political games
By CYNTHIA K. STANTON
For the Monitor
Sunday, August 21, 2016
The spread of the Zika virus presents a major public health crisis that has devastating
consequences for pregnant women and their infants around the world and here in New
In 2014, federal lawmakers spent months focused on the Ebola virus outbreak in West
Africa even though it never directly threatened the United States.
Meanwhile, today, Zika virus is spreading through sexual contact across the nation and our
junior U.S. senator, Kelly Ayotte, has gone on summer recess without allocating money to
protect women’s health. What’s wrong with this picture?
This spring, New Hampshire saw its first case of Zika and more cases have been reported
since. Although the mosquito carrying Zika is not yet present in New Hampshire, women
are also exposed to the virus through their sexual partners.
Given how this virus is spread, it is prudent and necessary that access to birth control,
condoms and other forms of contraception remain accessible.
So, why isn’t Kelly Ayotte responding to the urgent need to protect pregnant women
and their babies from Zika? Sadly, because it’s an election year, and she’s home
campaigning for re-election.
I’ve spent my entire professional life working on global pregnancy-related health issues.
Zika poses a credible threat to New Hampshire families. Zika may feel far from New
Hampshire borders, but physical proximity is irrelevant when sexual transmission is
possible and wide-ranging travel is common. I know firsthand that access to preventative
care and family planning resources are imperative to communities all over the world.
Zika is an insidious virus that causes microcephaly – an irreversible genetic condition linked
to brain damage, impaired fetal growth, hearing loss in infants and other complications for
pregnant women, including miscarriage.
Women can carry their pregnancies to term and not know their infant has been exposed. It
is a heartbreaking and preventable scenario that should not be politicized.
Since February, the head of the Centers for Disease Control has repeatedly called on
Congress to dedicate more funding to Zika prevention citing the perils of ignoring the
spread of Zika in our communities.
Kelly Ayotte has ignored our nation’s top authority on public health and aligned herself
with a far-right faction of Congress that would rather eliminate reproductive health care
access than serve the essential health needs of constituents.
In June, Ayotte and her fellow Republican senators refused to pass a clean bill for Zika
prevention funding. Instead, they tried to push through a bill that falls $800 million short of
the president’s request, strips funds from the affordable Care Act, fails to provide
dedicated funding for family planning and maternal health services, and uses a funding
mechanism that limits the types of providers that can provide critical services during a
public health emergency.
The legislation also excludes qualiᨈed providers, such as ProFamilias in Puerto Rico, simply
because of their affiliation with the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
This is politics at its worst and shows a callous disregard for the health risks that may face
pregnant women and infants who need access to birth control and sexual health services.
And it doesn’t stop there. As senator, Kelly Ayotte has voted six times to defund Planned
Parenthood and block thousands of Granite Staters from access to birth control and other
contraception. Zika must be addressed immediately. Yet, Kelly Ayotte continues to mock
this public health crisis.
In stark contrast, our senior senator, Jeanne Shaheen, has called on her colleagues across
the aisle to immediately return to work and allocate funding for Zika virus prevention.
Shaheen has raised awareness of how Zika is spread and advocated for greater access to
family planning services for those at risk, including at Planned Parenthood health centers.
Sen. Shaheen knows dangerous diseases don’t stop at state or national borders.
Bug spray and contraception are the best defense against the harmful effects of Zika.
Cutting funds to family planning is not part of the solution.
Right now, we need action. We cannot afford more lives to be altered by Zika – especially when a solution is right in front of us. We need action that will empower women and allow
us to confront Zika in a real and meaningful way.
I urge Kelly Ayotte to stand up to the national Republican political agenda and put the
health of American women and families at the center of our Zika response rather than
partisan political games.
(Cynthia K. Stanton of Moultonboro is a retired associate professor at Johns Hopkins
School of Public Health. Her work has focused on maternal and perinatal mortality
measurement and evaluation of pregnancy-related health interventions in low-income
countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.)