By Sarah Ferris - 02/12/16 09:03 AM EST
A group of Democratic senators is urging Republican leaders to prioritize more funding for birth control for women worldwide who might be exposed to the Zika virus.
The senators say the additional funding is necessary to prevent birth defects believed to be caused by the virus.
Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military A fight for new rights Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables MORE (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Senate Health Committee, is leading a group of about 30 Democrats calling for more funding for domestic and international programs that help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
“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,” they wrote in a letter, shared first with The Hill.
The virus, which is mostly transferred by mosquitoes but has also been spread through sex, has been linked to thousands of serious birth defects in Central and South America, as well as two miscarriages and one birth defect in the U.S.
Federal health officials say they have not confirmed a correlation between the virus and the condition “microcephaly,” in which infants are born with unusually small heads. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued alerts for more than 25 Zika-infected countries, urging women who are or may become pregnant to avoid travel.
The CDC also said last week that pregnant women should avoid unprotected sex with partners who may have been exposed to the Zika virus.
Their letter calls for more funding for “family planning and contraception,” and does not specifically mention abortion.
Political fights over abortion and the Zika virus are brewing in other countries. Health officials in countries like Brazil and El Salvador have suggested loosening their abortion laws if a pregnant woman is infected with the Zika virus.
Some countries have suggested that women should avoid getting pregnant for as long as two years until the virus is contained — a scenario that global public health groups have described as infeasible for many women who lack access to contraception.
But several Republicans in Congress this week said that they would be fiercely opposed to abortions for pregnant women who are diagnosed with the virus. Federal law already prevents any U.S. funds from being used to fund abortions, whether domestically or overseas.