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In Anti-Abortion Southern States, Zika Is a Perfect Nightmare

According to a new report, the states most vulnerable to Zika also have the least access to reproductive health care. Still, Republicans in Congress are trying to defund reproductive health care centers in the bill proposed to fight the virus.
Image via Stocksy

A new report by the Population Institute (PI) called Double Trouble shows that the states where people are most at risk of contracting Zika are the same states which have the most limited access to reproductive health service.

Why look at reproductive health services in relation to Zika? It is now confirmed that Zika can be sexually transmitted. Like other STI's, chances of this happening are far lower with the use of certain contraceptive methods. The need for access to reproductive health care in the face of a Zika crisis, however, does not stop at sexual transmission. Anyone can contract the virus, but its effects on those who are not pregnant are generally minimal: fever and joint pain that last about a week, though some may develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome.


Pregnant women, however, have a high risk of transmitting Zika to their fetuses. If they carry their pregnancy to term, this may result in newborns with lifelong abnormalities such as microcephaly, a condition in which a child is born with a much smaller head than a healthy newborn. The condition is often accompanied with developmental and intellectual disabilities, seizures, hearing problems, and other issues.

Read more: As Zika Virus Spreads, Women Warned Against Pregnancy

In order to contain its spread and minimize its effects, the report notes the importance of accessible reproductive health in areas where women are most susceptible to the infected mosquitos. Access to these services, apart from helping the spread of STIs, also helps prevent unplanned pregnancies, test for Zika in the fetus, and give women the choice of having an abortion if desired.

The report highlights another major issue in combating Zika which isn't entirely unrelated to reproductive health care: funding. A significant amount of funds are necessary in order to monitor and control mosquitos, educate the public on prevention methods, administer testing, conduct research, and provide contraceptive care.

Image via Population Institute.

In February of this year, after the World Health Organization declared Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern; the Obama Administration asked Congress for funding, which totalled $1.9 billion to help combat Zika. Seven months later, that request is still pending. The spending bill, which would have provided only 60 percent of the funds originally requested by the Obama Administration, was killed by Senate Democrats in June after Republicans made provisions which included cutting funding for both the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood.


Congress's push to defund reproductive health care centers is likely due to conservative beliefs against abortion. According to the report, however, these clinics will provide services to women that will combat Zika beyond abortion.

Governments at all levels should adopt a rights-based approach that respects the right of women to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health and child-bearing

Bob Walker, author of the report and president of the Population Institute, said, "Let's be clear that any funds provided to Planned Parenthood are not going towards abortion. They're going to supply help for women and not just contraception but also—presumably because Planned Parenthood runs family planning clinics that address a variety of women's health issues—testing for Zika." Interestingly, in what Walker called "supreme irony" over the phone, the Zika litigation proposed by Congress that hopes to defund Planned Parenthood, is likely to harm the fetuses they argue they are trying to protect by making abortion access scarce.

Still, though the funds requested by the Obama Administration are in part needed to provide reproductive health services, it is unlikely that they will be allocated towards contraception and will instead focus on research and testing, says Walker.

Among the states most likely to be affected by the virus are states like Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where teen pregnancy rates are the highest in the country. Students in these states, along with Florida, are not required to have any sex education whatsoever, and all of the Gulf States received an F or F- grade for their reproductive rights from the PI.

Read more: A State-by-State List of the Lies Abortion Doctors Are Forced to Tell Women

Likewise, all of the Gulf States besides Louisiana and Alabama have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This places yet another hurdle in front of low-income women seeking reproductive health services. According to the report, "Low-income women in the U.S. often rely on government-supported family planning clinics to access contraceptive services and information," which means that we could see a disparity between upper and lower income families in preventing the spread of Zika in these states.

The report also situates the Zika and reproductive health situation alongside other countries in the Western Hemisphere. Notably, it points out that in the Caribbean and Latin America, it is legal in only five countries total to have an abortion in the case of fetal impairment. Still, the US is not as advanced in this arena as we may presume: "While contraceptive use in the US is higher than the global average, the rate of unintended pregnancy (45 percent) is significantly higher than the global average (40 percent)," says the report.

The PI's report may seem damning, but it does offer some solutions: "In responding to the Zika threat, governments at all levels should adopt a rights-based approach that respects the right of women to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health and child-bearing." In many ways, the future of Zika in the US is in the hands of Congress (if not researchers), and though the solutions seem simple—increase funding and give women rights and access to their own reproductive health—they're not ones that our majority Republican House and Senate historically get behind. For now, we watch to see if Congress can support reproductive health care access when the health of the fetuses they hold so dear is put in danger due to the rights they've chosen to withhold from women thus far.