Zika Is Your Reproductive Rights’ Worst Nightmare
In a country woefully unprepared to deal with the crisis, restricting abortion rights would be catastrophic.
Donald Trump’s personal stance on abortion is far from clear. In 1999, he appeared on “Meet the Press” and announced that he was “very pro-choice.” In 2016, he advocated for overturning Roe v. Wade and returning jurisdiction to each individual state. He also suggested that women who seek out abortions deserve to be punished; he later pivoted and said that it’s the doctors performing the abortions, and not the women, who should be held responsible.
In reality, Donald Trump probably doesn’t have much in the way of a personal opinion on abortion. As someone who grew up in New York City and spent his adult life rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite, Trump undoubtedly knows people who have paid to have their pregnancies terminated?—?he himself may have funded such procedures. And even though he grew up Presbyterian, Trump’s opinions do not appear to be based in religious ideology.
Therefore, it’s fair to assume that all of Donald Trump’s views, at least as they pertain to abortion, are politically motivated. He reaped the benefits of appealing to the evangelical right and now it’s time to pay the piper. Trump certainly appears to be making moves, surrounding himself with people like Mike Pence, who built a political career out of restricting abortion and leading the fight to defund Planned Parenthood.
Things are looking very grim indeed for the future of women’s reproductive freedom, but there is still hope. President-Elect Trump’s one saving grace is that he’s a wildcard: He’s never towed a party line and he tends to make decisions based largely on what will be most beneficial for him. And there is one very real, very pressing reason why it would be beneficial for Trump to keep abortion federally accessible: the Zika virus.
Zika is spread primarily through Aedes mosquitoes, although the virus can also be sexually transmitted through intercourse with infected persons. Zika symptoms are flu-like and include chills, headaches, sensitivity to light and muscle pain. The disease affects everyone differently and some people who become infected will fail to display symptoms. Doctors can diagnose Zika using a blood or urine test, but that’s about all they can do?—?there is currently no medication available to treat the virus.
Pregnant women are most vulnerable, as Zika has been linked to microcephaly?—?a rare neurological condition that causes babies to be born with smaller-than-average head size, underdeveloped brains and a potential for developmental delays and learning disabilities. Studies suggest that 13% of all women who become infected with Zika will give birth to babies who will suffer from these severe birth defects.
The Zika virus has already spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas. In February of 2016, Dallas, Texas reported the first case of sexual transmission within the United States. To prevent Zika, the Center for Disease Control recommends using an EPA-registered insect repellant, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants to prevent bites, staying inside and removing any standing water from inside the home. The CDC also recommends that pregnant women avoid traveling to areas where Zika has an active presence.
Zika will be Trump’s Ebola, and Congress has not done a great job of setting him up to succeed in the fight. In June of 2016, Senate Republicans and Democrats were unable to reach a compromise on a Zika relief bill. Obama requested $1.9 billion to help fight the disease and Republican senators came back with a counter offer of $1.1 billion, plus additional provisions stating that federal grant money could not be used to provide birth control to women threatened by the virus. Federal agencies are running out of money and $500 million that was set aside to battle Ebola has since been diverted to the battle against Zika. Since the government is unable to cover costs, the private sector is stepping in to help.
If Donald Trump were to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion rights decisions would have to be made at state levels. This is concerning, especially for states like Florida: As of November 9th, there are 4,175 reported cases of Zika within the United States?—?Florida currently has 847 of them. Newly re-elected Florida senator, Marco Rubio, is famously pro-life and has previously said that in cases of Zika, he would “err on the side of life,” even if that meant forcing women to give birth to children with known microcephaly.
With Zika bearing down, now is not the time to be talking about restricting abortion access?—?indeed, the country is already woefully unprepared to deal with the crisis. Microcephaly cannot be detected in fetuses until halfway through a pregnancy, which usually occurs around 20 weeks. Forty-three of the 50 states currently ban abortion at 20 weeks or after the fetus is considered viable. If Zika were to become a health crisis on par with HIV, the country would have no way to care for the children being born into it. Will insurance companies provide coverage for these children? How will public schools be able to afford the resources these kids will need in order to graduate? Who will care for them after their parents are gone?
Donald Trump is not likely to be swayed by appeals for women’s rights?—?what does it matter to him if women don’t have the resources to drive to another state to receive an abortion? Donald Trump is a businessman and when he looks at the presidency, he sees America as the business and himself as the CEO. The only way to save women’s reproductive freedoms is to hope that Donald Trump looks at the bottom line and sees just what Zika will cost this country.
Pundits are fond of drawing parallels between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan: Some are meant to be complimentary, others less so. But never forget that in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan stood idly by as thousands of gay Americans perished from AIDS. Donald Trump is standing on the precipice of a similar health crisis and he is poised to repeat the same mistakes.