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Current Outbreak Shines Light on Longstanding Global Public Health Crisis, Demonstrates Critical Need for Government Support of Sexual and Reproductive Health

Washington, D.C. Planned Parenthood Global applauded the actions of over 30 Senators in sending a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell emphasizing the importance of government support for global sexual and reproductive health and rights in light of the spreading Zika virus. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) led 27 of their Democratic colleagues in sending the letter, which called for “a robust and focused effort on expanding access to women’s health care services” as imperative to any global and domestic response to the Zika virus.

“The Senators’ letter comes at a crucial time in our response to this outbreak,” said Latanya Mapp Frett, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Global. “Women need access to family planning, safe abortion, and maternal health services. Advising women to delay pregnancy, as some governments have done, is an inadequate and problematic response, especially since women in these regions already have limited access to reproductive health care. The Senators make a strong case for governments to urgently address this public health crisis with the commonsense measures that reflect women’s needs. Robust investments in public health, including access to family planning, safe abortion, and maternal health services, will help ensure that women, men, and young people in some of the world’s most neglected areas have access to the health care they need to fight back against the Zika virus and control their bodies and their futures.”

The Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness, is quickly spreading across the Americas. The crisis has citizens, governments, global health agencies, and media around the globe alarmed, among other things, because of indications that the Zika virus may be linked to microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. Some governments in Latin America are responding to the Zika crisis by advising people to delay pregnancies, especially while exposure to the Zika virus is possible. The World Health Organization made an announcement on Feb. 1 declaring a public health emergency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned pregnant women and those trying to conceive in the U.S. to avoid travel to affected countries.

Around the world, the need for sexual and reproductive health care is dire. More than 200 million women and girls in developing countries who wish to delay or plan childbirth still lack access to modern contraceptives, information, and services. Roughly 9,000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean die in childbirth each year, and 760,000 are hospitalized due to complications from unsafe abortion. 54% of women who need care for medical complications related to pregnancy and delivery do not receive it, and 55% of newborns do not receive needed care for major health complications during or soon after birth.

Cosigners to the letter include Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In the letter, they state:

"The United States must act to provide the assistance necessary to minimize the potentially devastating effects of the virus worldwide, and this response must include family planning resources."

"Zika’s disproportionate impact on pregnant women and their infants highlights the need for reproductive health and family planning to be included in public health efforts. We urge you to recognize the true nature of this public health emergency and work with us to improve women’s access to contraceptives and other basic public health needs.… "

"Now is the time to bolster women’s access to family planning services to support women in Zika-impacted countries and here in the United States as part of immediate preventive measures. "

The full text of the letter is available here.


Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With over 650 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.


Planned Parenthood Federation of America


Planned Parenthood Federation of America media office: 212-261-4433


February 13, 2016