Anti-Abortion Extremism Fuels Zika Crisis
Pregnant women are at risk in the face of the Zika crisis. They urgently need a government response that is strong, comprehensive, and compassionate. What they don’t need is politicians judging them or trying to make their decisions for them. Women need medical options, not political agendas. The choice is clear: Stand with Women or Stand in the Way.
Stand With Florida Women
- By ensuring access to contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy.
- By protecting abortion access and ensuring it is an option for women facing a Zika diagnosis.
- By providing access to strong social supports for families who have children with disabilities.
- By accepting Medicaid expansion to ensure Floridians caught in the coverage gap have access to health care
- By using the best science and research and committing to a Zika vaccine and cure.
Stand In The Way
- By eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood family planning services.
- By using Florida laws to take away the option of abortion, and force all pregnant women with Zika to bring their pregnancies to term.
- By failing to invest in social support programs at realistic levels.
- By refusing billions of dollars for Medicaid expansion that would help combat the Zika crises.
- By opposing promising medical research which may lead to a Zika breakthrough.
Zika and Contraception
The Zika virus is linked to severe birth defects and is spread by mosquitoes and sexual transmission. This means that women in Florida need access to contraception in order to prevent unintended pregnancy and the spread of the virus.
It’s a fact that women in Florida face unintended pregnancy – a 2010 study showed that 59 percent of all pregnancies in the state were unintended. Additionally, in 2014, more than 1.2 million Florida women were in need of publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies. Many women who need publicly funded family planning resources are able to access them at safety-net health centers such as Planned Parenthood.
Yet Florida politicians have taken steps to decrease access to contraception instead of increase it. Just this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law that attempted to block Planned Parenthood from receiving public funds for necessary family planning services. This law was overturned by the courts in August, but the state continues to look for opportunities to cut off family planning funding.
Florida’s efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and attack family planning access are counter to efforts to prevent Zika transmission and unintended pregnancies – in fact, they’re worsening the health crisis.
Zika and Abortion
A pregnant woman facing a Zika diagnosis needs compassion, support, and medical options. And those options must include abortion. What she doesn't need is politicians judging her, making decisions for her, and using Florida laws to force her to bring her pregnancy to term.
Yet Florida continues to enforce and expand barriers to abortion access. These include state-mandated counseling, waiting periods, public and private insurance coverage barriers, parental notification requirements, and forced ultrasounds. Lack of access to abortion providers is yet another significant challenge.
In 2016, Florida politicians moved to further restrict abortion access and passed a TRAP law, which included numerous medically unnecessary and burdensome regulations. Some provisions were blocked by the courts in August but many barriers remain, which is especially problematic for pregnant women in Florida going up against the Zika virus.
Microcephaly, a severe birth defect linked to Zika, can usually only be diagnosed later during pregnancy – a time when abortion is more expensive and difficult to access. Florida prohibits abortion after 24 weeks, yet a STAT-Harvard poll found a majority of Americans believe women should have access to abortion after 24 weeks if she has Zika and has been told by a health professional there is a serious possibility her baby will be born with microcephaly.
Florida’s anti-abortion politicians are out of sync with the American public, who believe that women facing a Zika diagnosis should have access to all options – including abortion.
Zika and Support for Children with Disabilities
Florida needs better infrastructure and funding to ensure that children born with disabilities have the tools to not just survive, but thrive. Florida women infected with Zika should be able to choose to bring a baby to term with the comfort of knowing that special care and services will be there to support her family if her infant has a severe birth defect.
If babies with birth defects caused by the Zika virus survive, they may require expensive, specialized care. Florida's Department of Health plans to enroll children born with developmental delays or birth defects from Zika in the state’s existing “Early Steps” program. But Early Steps has only 15 locations statewide, and a November 2015 report showed that job cuts at Early Steps initiated by Gov. Scott’s Department of Health caused the program to fall short of federal standards for timely and quality care.
Parenting a child born with a disability requires access to resources that are less likely to be available to disadvantaged women and families. Lack of affordable health care, paid sick leave, and paid family leave are all factors that may make these resources even more difficult to access.
The growing Zika crisis is exposing serious vulnerabilities in Florida’s health care system and social safety net. Even with a modest increase in state funding for Early Steps, Florida lacks the children’s health infrastructure and resources to deal with an outbreak of infants born with Zika.
Zika and Medicaid Expansion
For Florida women thinking of having a child, or those who are already pregnant, the Zika virus is undoubtedly a real threat.
Gov. Rick Scott recently urged women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant to: "Contact your OB/GYN for guidance and to receive a Zika prevention kit." It's good advice...unless you're one of the more than 283,000 Florida women stuck in the health care coverage gap.
This gap was actually caused by Gov. Scott and his allies in the Florida legislature, due to their unwillingness to accept billions in federal dollars to expand Medicaid in Florida.
For many people, the Zika virus causes mild illness or no symptoms at all. For pregnant women however, the virus can be spread to her fetus and cause birth defects, including microcephaly. It’s important for women to receive routine preventative health care from an OB-GYN to monitor such developments, but one-third of Florida counties don’t even have one available.
Yet Floridians have been asked to remain vigilant and visit doctors and OB/GYNs, but that’s an especially unrealistic option for those in the coverage gap. The high number of uninsured in our state makes it increasingly difficult to protect ourselves and our communities when a health crisis like the Zika virus outbreak occurs.
Florida policymakers are widening a major vulnerability in the state’s health care system by refusing to expand Medicaid – this concern gets increasingly more serious as the Zika crisis continues to grow and women need better access to health care coverage.
Zika and Fetal Tissue Research
Just this year, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a statement in support of fetal tissue research and highlighted its connection to the Zika outbreak:
- "The current Zika virus outbreak shows that we must use the full potential of science, including fetal tissue research, if we hope to develop a vaccine or a medicine that will allow us to prevent serious birth defects and even deaths in the future. Already, scientists studying Zika have gathered strong evidence about the disease and its potential association with birth defects through fetal tissue analysis.
- "Women affected by Zika virus are terrified about their own health and the health of their families. We must do everything we can to help them and protect more families faced with a Zika diagnosis during pregnancy, especially as this outbreak continues to grow.
- "Unfortunately, some state and federal politicians are working hard to obstruct — or even criminalize — fetal tissue research, limiting the ability of scientists and researchers to develop new vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat disease."
In Florida, anti-abortion politicians are doing all they can to restrict this important research (see HB 1411), which may offer a breakthrough in the prevention and treatment of Zika.
Fetal tissue research has also been used to advance treatment for other health concerns such as Parkinson’s disease, cancer and AIDS. Beyond Florida, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who heads up a House of Representatives Select Committee is also waging a national battle against this research.
Enough is enough. In confronting the Zika crisis, we need science and research, not politics and ideology.