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Marco Rubio does not take abortion lightly. An avid supporter of the pro-life movement, Rubio has defended his position on abortions even when dealing with cases of rape and incest, so when it came to the Zika virus, his views did not change. “Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties…But I’m prolife. And I’m strongly prolife. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life.” The issue of abortion has risen significantly since the Zika virus outbreak, and because infected women who are pregnant know about the risks associated with childbirth and the chances of their child having microcephaly, among other severe brain defects, they are wondering whether abortion is the right thing to do.

The Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947, but did not begin spreading across the globe until recently. The Zika virus was officially confirmed as a presence in Brazil in May of 2015. It is spread by mosquito bites, specifically mosquitos from the Aedes genus. Infection is associated with a brain disorder called microcephaly, which results in newborns with infected mothers having small heads. Sometimes an infant whose mother has the Zika virus can be born with microcephaly and be fine (although there can be health risks later in its life), but there are severe cases of microcephaly which can result in seizures or permanently rigid limbs. This is the issue where abortion comes into play.

 Daniele Santos (mother) holds her baby Juan Pedro, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil. Mario Tama/Getty Images
Daniele Santos (mother) holds her baby Juan Pedro, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil. Mario Tama/Getty Images

In Latin America, specifically in countries such as Brazil, El Salvador, and Colombia, the Zika virus has prompted the discussion about the legality of abortion. Many South American countries have strict abortion procedures (or have it completely illegal) and are telling women to postpone their pregnancies, but those who are already pregnant face a decision that could cost their future child its life. It’s not surprising that many women who live in countries where abortion is completely illegal, such as Brazil, have resorted to dangerous methods to terminate pregnancies that could be . Woman on Web, a group based in Canada that provides medication and advice to women who reside in countries where abortions are illegal, have seen a spike in inquiries about abortions since the Zika virus outbreak, which could point to a spike in illegal abortion activity as well.

It is important for lawmakers to realize that abortions continue to happen although they are illegal. In the case of the Zika virus, those women who are worried about the effects and future of their fetus’s life must be allowed to decide for themselves if it’s worth the risk to abort or to keep on with the pregnancy.

Abortion is legal in the United States, although there are some states where it is harder to get an abortion than others. Coincidentally, many of these states are also the same states that have a higher risk for the Zika virus. Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida all fall under the area in which Aedes Aegypti (the mosquito that carries Zika) are present. These are also the same states that have the highest restrictions on abortions. Funding for any kind of bill to stop the spread of Zika has failed, mostly due to funding over Planned Parenthood.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood hold signs at a rally. Source: Getty Images
Supporters of Planned Parenthood hold signs at a rally. Source: Getty Images

Marco Rubio mentioned the Planned Parenthood issue in his argument against abortions for those who have the Zika virus and are pregnant. “The Planned Parenthood angle is something they [Democrats] basically made up to have a political reason not to pass Zika so they can come back in August and campaign on it,” said Rubio. Even if the Planned Parenthood issue is just politics, the issue of abortions and the Zika virus will not stop and wait for Congress to reconvene.

This is not the first time the United States has had to face the issue of abortions head on due to the outbreak a disease associated with pregnancy. Between 1963 and 1965, Rubella came to the United States and infected an estimated 12.5 million people. Pregnant women who were infected with Rubella faced the same issue as women who are infected with Zika: if they kept on with the pregnancy, the chance that their child would have severe birth defects were incredibly high. So what were they to do? Abortion was illegal in the 60s, so many women resorted to having an abortion illegally. However, this started a conversation about abortion and reproductive rights and eventually lead to the 1973 US Supreme Court decision that would legalize abortions and make it a right.

However, like many other countries around the world, the United States still has much work to do when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. Many states, such as Texas, have attempted to increase the amount of restrictions on abortions. The Supreme Court declared these laws unconstitutional, deeming that the requirements Texas put in place in order for women and clinics were causing an undue burden on their constitutional right to an abortion. This is one of the most recent cases in which women’s reproductive rights have been put into the spotlight, and it only goes to show how much progress needs to be made when concerning women and issues that affect their health.

Compare this with the Zika virus and there aren’t that many differences. Abortions are highly personal and delicate decisions, and having an infection such as Zika that could leave an infant with severe brain damage and other health consequences is something that the mother should decide for herself. Not allowing women who have the Zika virus to get abortions is not only dangerous for the women but also for the fetus.

If those who are serious about being pro-life truly care about the life of a child, then they should also consider the consequences and effects that certain brain and health defects that child will experience in his or her lifetime. Colunnist Hélio Schwartsman said it best in the daily newspaper Folhda de Sao Paulo, “Each mother should be able to follow her own instincts.” If that instinct leans toward abortion or going through with the pregnancy, that’s the mothers own decision to make.

– Talia Chavez

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

http://www.cdc.gov/zika/

CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/09/health/rubella-abortion-zika/

New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/health/what-is-zika-virus.html?_r=0

Politico:

http://www.politico.com/states/florida/story/2016/08/rubio-no-abortions-for-zika-infected-women-104555

Time:

http://time.com/4394141/zika-abortion-usa/

Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/zika-prompts-urgent-debate-about-abortion-in-latin-america/2016/02/07/b4f3a718-cc6b-11e5-b9ab-26591104bb19_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-strikes-down-texas-abortion-clinic-restrictions/2016/06/27/ba55d526-3c70-11e6-a66f-aa6c1883b6b1_story.html

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