A large majority of Americans want the federal government to increase funding to prevent Zika’s spread in the U.S. and also help women at risk in affected areas get access to abortion, contraception and family planning services, according to a poll released Thursday.
The virus, which has reached epidemic levels in Latin America and the Caribbean and is likely to spread further this summer, has been linked to serious birth defects in babies born to infected mothers.
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s survey revealing broad public support for federal Zika spending landed as Congress remains in a months-long stalemate over allocating emergency funds to combat the mosquito-borne virus. On Tuesday, a Senate vote that was split along party lines left a $1.1 billion proposal in limbo. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
There have been more than 800 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in the U.S. — including 265 pregnant women — and all stemmed from travel outside the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But in Puerto Rico, CDC figures show, more than 1,800 people have caught the virus, including from locally infected mosquitoes in the territory. The virus also can be spread through sexual contact.
More than 70 percent of the public favors investing more money in research on Zika, according to Kaiser’s poll. That sentiment is relatively consistent across party lines –- 81 percent among Democrats, 73 percent for Independents and 68 percent for Republicans.
Similarly, there’s agreement on spending more money to prevent Zika’s domestic spread. On that issue, Kaiser found support ranges from 80 percent among Democrats to 66 percent among Republicans.
The partisan divide is widest on the matter of federal funding to give women access to reproductive health choices and services, according to the survey.
Overall, 65 percent of Americans supported that as did 81 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Independents. Among Republicans, backing dropped to 46 percent.
The Senate’s vote Tuesday on a GOP-drafted measure was opposed by Democrats and failed on a 52-48 vote — short of the 60-vote, veto-proof majority required to advance it. Democrats faulted Republicans for packing the bill with provisions designed to deny new funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico. It is unclear if the parties will be able to come to an agreement before Congress adjourns for summer starting next month.
The Obama administration in February requested $1.9 billion in Zika funding and Republicans originally proposed about half that amount.
Public knowledge of Zika varies widely, Kaiser’s poll found. While about six in 10 correctly said that the virus is associated with birth defects in babies born to infected mothers, only half were aware the virus can be sexually transmitted.
While 85 percent of Americans are familiar with Zika, just 13 percent say it poses a major threat to them personally, the Kaiser poll found. Seventy-four percent said it poses a major threat to pregnant women.
The poll of 1,201 adults was conducted June 15-21 and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.