The Facts on Zika and the Abortion Industry’s False Panic Over Microcephaly
Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a study that claimed the number of women wanting abortions in Zika-infected nations rose after governments warned women about the virus. Conversely, according to the study, no increase was seen when governments didn’t warn women about the potential harms of Zika.
Zika is associated with a number of serious disabilities. Microcephaly, a disorder that can cause minor to major disabilities in children, such as seizures, small head sizes and developmental disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is among the most common and most concerning to public health officials.
In order to estimate the demand for abortion in the subject countries, the partially U.S. taxpayer-funded study examined orders for abortion pills from Women on Web, an organization that provides illegal abortions in nations where the procedure is mostly or entirely banned. The lead authors of the study were from the University of Texas, and two of the other authors were from Women on Web.
Many media outlets reported on the study. What was far less frequently reported is that several other studies have discovered that Zika is a real risk to mothers and their unborn children — but the odds of an unborn child being born with a disability caused by Zika are very small.
Should Women Be Concerned About Zika?
Simply put, yes. Zika is suspected to have led to at least 1,500 babies born with the disorder microcephaly in Brazil alone, thanks to maternal Zika infections. (A major caveat to this was published on Monday; see below.) Hundreds of women have been infected in the U.S. and its territories, and in the U.S. at least six children of infected women have been suspected to have had defects.
However, a study published by NEJM in April examining Zika’s effects on children in Brazil and the French Polynesia, as well as a similar study published in May, indicate that the odds of Zika infections turning into disabilities for unborn children are small — even if the mother is infected in the first trimester, when the child is most vulnerable.
Furthermore, the preliminary results of a June 15 study examining results in Colombia found women who were infected in the third trimester of pregnancy did not pass disabilities onto their children.
Should Women Panic?
No. The two earlier studies mentioned above show that the odds of a microcephaly diagnosis in an unborn child born to a woman infected with Zika in the first trimester are between 1 and 13 percent — a finding supported by a new study of Zika-infected women in Colombia.
The Colombian study’s preliminary results found that, as one CDC official told The Stream last week, among the women studied most closely “a majority (over 90%) of those infected in the third trimester delivered no infants with apparent birth defects, including microcephaly.”
For those in the first trimester, continued the spokesperson: “We still don’t know the level of risk from a Zika infection during pregnancy, meaning if a woman is infected, how often her fetus will have problems. However, preliminary data suggest the risk to be about 1-13%” if a woman is infected in the first trimester.
Again, the “1-13%” chance of disability is for women infected with Zika in the first trimester. This means women infected in the second and third trimesters have thus far been shown to be highly unlikely to pass Zika-caused disorders on to their children.
The latest studies have also raised doubts about the Brazilian figures that have been taken as evidence of Zika’s effect. According to an analysis published on Monday by the New England Complex Systems Institute, the disproportionately low number of cases of Zika-caused microcephaly in Colombia compared to Brazil’s outbreak raises the possibility that Brazil’s outbreak has other causes. The Institute also acknowledged, however, that it is possible that more children with Zika-caused microcephaly will soon to be born in Colombia.
All told, this means women should not consider a Zika infection to be a sentence of disability for their children. In fact, current evidence suggests that the majority of women with Zika — well over 90 percent — will raise children who are developmentally normal.
What About Abortion?
If this is the case, why have major news media and pro-choice spokepersons emphasized the danger? Dr. Donna Harrison, the executive director of the American Association of Pro-life OB-GYNs, pointed out in an e-mail to The Stream that many viruses (like cytomegalovirus and rubella) and infections (like syphilis and toxoplasmosis) cause problems in early pregnancy, but
for none of these infections, which have a comparable rate of problems, has there ever been a call to legalize abortion worldwide, despite the fact that these infections have been around for decades. The hysteria being generated over Zika is an unscientific excuse to push abortion legalization on sovereign nations [that] protect and cherish human life.
The University of Texas study closed with the wish that “Official information and advice about potential exposure to the Zika virus should be accompanied by efforts to ensure that all reproductive choices are safe, legal, and accessible.” These scholars aren’t the only ones stressing the danger to pregnant women and urging the legalization of abortion in Latin America in response.
Their efforts have been echoed by a high-ranking official at the United Nations and President Obama. Just last week, Obama threatened to veto Congress’ funding for Zika prevention in part because the GOP’s $1.1 billion in funding declined to fund Planned Parenthood, and earlier this week Democrats blocked Zika funding in part for the same reason.
It is to the detriment of the abortion industry’s attempt to scare women into abortions and Latin American countries into legalizing that scientific research exists. Even the attempts by high-ranking officials at the UN and at the White House to create an abortion panic cannot erase the fact that the best evidence thus far indicates the vast majority of Zika-infected women will not pass disabilities onto their children.