Abortion advocates using Zika as leverage
Pro-life groups combat misinformation about the virus
WASHINGTON—The spread of the Zika virus to the United States renews political footing for the abortion debate.
Beginning this week, volunteers from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, started canvassing neighborhoods in South Florida to warn residents about the risk of birth defects linked to Zika. The virus can cause microcephaly, an abnormally small head that restricts brain development, in unborn babies.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding and unnecessary fear about the Zika virus,” said Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “And, unfortunately, those fears are motivated by politics.”
A STAT-Harvard poll released early this month indicated Zika causes Americans to alter abortion views. A sample of 1,016 people was asked if they favored late-term abortions (after 24 weeks’ gestation). Only 23 percent said yes. But that number jumped to 59 percent if there was a serious possibility of microcephaly.
“That is a challenge to the pro-life community to step up our efforts—we do not kill babies because they have a disability,” Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee,
told me. “Kill the mosquito, not the baby.”
Harrison, a board-certified OB-GYN, told me there are real fears associated with Zika, but pro-abortion groups are overhyping the threat.
For a woman to give birth to a baby with microcephaly, Zika infection needs to take place within the first trimester in most cases. Of those women, only 1-2 percent will see birth defects in their babies.
“That means 98 percent of pregnant women infected with the Zika virus will give birth to normal babies,” Harrison said.
She added nonpregnant women who get sick with Zika develop an immunity to the virus.
But those numbers have hardly quieted the uproar.
Florida was the first state to report local transmissions of the Zika virus and continues to have one of the highest numbers of reported cases. Earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is seeking reelection, caused a stir when he said the Zika virus should not create greater access to abortion in the state.
“I understand a lot of people disagree with my view, but I believe that all human life is worthy of protection of our laws. And when you present it in the context of Zika or any prenatal condition, it’s a difficult question and a hard one,” Rubio told Politico. “But if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of life.”
Rubio’s stance immediately made him a target for political attacks.
“This is offensive from any U.S. senator, but it’s even more outrageous given that he represents the state where Zika is currently spreading,” said Anne Bailey, deputy field director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
There is still no data showing an increase of abortions in the United States because of Zika. But that is not the same for other places in the world.
In Latin American countries, where Zika first started to spread and laws provide greater protections for the unborn, an increased number of women are seeking abortions.
A study from The New England Journal of Medicine published in July reported a surge in abortion requests in countries greatest affected by Zika. In Venezuela and Brazil, requests for abortion rose by 93 percent and 108 percent, respectively.
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