The Zika virus has caused massive concern bordering on panic across a significant portion of the globe. Women are worried sick that their children could be born with birth defects, worries that are being heightened by some health agencies’ advice to avoid pregnancy during the Zika outbreak.
But if experts are advising women not to get pregnant, what are already pregnant women to do?
A recent study reports a 36–108 percent increase in abortions in Latin American countries with a Zika health advisory despite abortion’s being condemned morally by the Catholic Church, and illegal or restricted in many countries.
The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, tracks requests for abortion drugs through a nonprofit called Women on Web that provides drugs to women in countries where abortion is illegal. The study therefore does not reflect the potential increase in abortions through other means.
The researchers found that in almost all of the countries that had issued health warnings about Zika and had legal restrictions on abortions, the number of requests for abortion through Women on Web rose significantly – effectively doubling in Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela, and increasing by over a third in most of the other countries. In countries that had issued no health warnings, there was no statistically-significant increase.
These babies were not known to have microcephaly or other birth defects. They may have been perfectly healthy. Nonetheless, they are casualties of a world medical culture in which pre-born babies have no value.
What were their chances of being born with a condition so severe they would not have lived? No one really knows, but probably not statistically high. Here are some basic facts.
Over the last year Brazil has experienced a Zika virus outbreak, and during that time a correlating increase in birth defects including microcephaly (a defect in which the head is smaller than in healthy children and in which the brain does not grow correctly). Extreme cases of microcephaly can result in death or severe disability. But in less severe cases, early intervention therapy can help, and in even milder cases, the child will be cognitively normal with only a smaller than average head.
Zika has only recently been scientifically linked to microcephaly and birth defects. Much more research is necessary to confirm the link, understand its scope, and determine the actual rate of defect development in infected babies.
Despite the media hype, the CDC says clearly that we don’t know how likely an exposed pregnant woman is to be infected, and if she is, we don’t know:
how the virus will affect her or her pregnancy;
how likely it will pass to her fetus;
if an infected fetus will develop birth defects;
when in pregnancy the infection might cause harm to the fetus;
if sexual transmission of Zika poses a different risk of birth defects than mosquito-borne transmission.
The advisory to avoid pregnancy has created a rift in the global medical community. Many medical professionals consider it an improper response when “most babies conceived during Zika epidemics in Latin America have been born healthy.”
Only two studies have addressed the question of how many babies could develop defects from Zika, and the outcomes vary widely. In one study of French Polynesia, the rate of microcephaly was estimated to be one percent; in the other study, of Rio de Janeiro, the rate of impact on the pregnancy was twenty-nine percent, but that included all possible impacts, not just microcephaly, and the estimated potential for microcephaly was only five percent. The sample size in the Brazilian study was much smaller than in the French study. Clearly much more research is needed.
There are also other questions that should be asked, like “What would microcephaly rates in these areas be without Zika?” It has been suggested that those rates go under reported.
I’m sure the population control crowd is loving this situation. Zika will be the new poster child for lowering birth rates—some health officials are already touting their success in reducing pregnancy rates due to Zika panic. Then there is the push to increase legal access to abortions.
What happened to a reasoned and calm response to global problems? Why does every single issue that pops up have to be used to further someone’s agenda? The ones who suffer the most from these panics are always the same—the women, the children, the poor, the marginalized, and, I would point out, the darker skinned.
Whatever the ultimate causes of microcephaly, the number of healthy babies lost to the panic is far greater than the number with defects (whatever the cause). Life is precious, babies are human beings made in the image of God, and abortion is never the answer. The real dangers in this situation aren’t from a virus, they’re from the global penchant for using panic to push specific agendas, and an utter disdain for human life.