In the United States and Latin America, abortion has entered the discussion of how to combat the Zika virus.
With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcing in April that Zika infection during pregnancy can cause “microcephaly and other severe brain defects” in unborn babies, some abortion rights advocates, including members of Congress, have suggested broadening access to abortion among Zika-infected women.
But Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG), told Baptist Press that Zika, in addition to the real threat it poses, has become “an opportunity that pro-abortion people are blowing out of proportion to try to scare people into changing the abortion laws.”
Harrison, a Michigan-based physician, said, “The push to change abortion laws is not based on science, and it’s not based on a love of humanity. It’s based on simply the fact that some people want abortion worldwide. We, as Hippocratic physicians, do not believe you treat people by killing them.”
Citing a French Polynesian study, Harrison said pregnant women appear to be at risk of having babies with microcephaly only if they contract Zika during the first trimester. Even then, the risk of fetal microcephaly among infected women is 1 percent.
Microcephaly is a condition in which the brain does not develop properly, resulting in a smaller-than-normal head sizes and severe disabilities in some cases. In adults, Zika generally results in no symptoms or mild symptoms.
An Associated Press article put the risk of fetal microcephaly among infected pregnant women at “somewhere between 1 and 29 percent.” The CDC websites states, “If a pregnant woman is exposed, we don’t know how likely she is to get Zika. If a pregnant woman is infected, we don’t know how the virus will affect her pregnancy.”
The CDC has reported “active Zika virus transmission” in at least 48 countries and territories spanning from South Pacific islands to the Americas to Africa, and activated its Emergency Operations Center to the highest level of responsiveness.
Still, Harrison concluded, “The hysteria surrounding Zika is kind of a made-for-television production – or I should say a made-for-legislation production. It’s important that women understand what the risk is, but it’s also important for women not to become terrified of what the risk isn’t.”
In the U.S., the Senate and House are working to craft a response to President Obama’s request for $1.8 billion in emergency Zika funding. Bills approved by both chambers contain language barring federal funding from being used for abortions – a reality that drew objection from Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette, Louise Slaughter, Jan Schakowsky and Barbara Lee.
The four pro-choice congresswomen said in a statement according to The Hill, “By including … language that denies access to abortions for women receiving Medicaid, women in the Peace Corps and military, federal workers and others, it continues discriminatory policies that deny women vital reproductive health care services based on their income, their insurance and where they work.”
Dee Redwine, Latin America regional director of Planned Parenthood Global, said the restrictive abortion laws of most Central and South American countries inhibit an adequate Zika response.
“Governments cannot, on one hand, discourage pregnancy, while at the same time limiting their commitments to and funding for family planning and access to safe and legal abortion,” Redwine said according to LifeSiteNews.
In February, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue sent a letter to then-Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump calling them to “put aside … ideological objections and support universal contraceptive coverage until we better understand the Zika virus and can control its outbreak.”
Asked by BP whether “universal contraceptive coverage” would include birth control methods typically regarded by pro-life groups as abortifacients, a NARAL spokesman said it is “a broad concept” that does “not necessarily” specify “the particular type of contraception they would choose to employ.”
Harrison, of AAPLOG, said even though present versions of U.S. legislation prohibit Zika funds from being used for abortion, they do not prohibit the government from “advocating for abortion” as a response to Zika or contracting with organizations that provide abortion to secure prenatal care for Zika-infected women.
AP reported CDC officials thus far “have declined to discuss the issue of abortion services” in connection with Zika.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)