The threat of a Zika epidemic of the virus in the U.S. is raising the ethical dilemma of presenting abortion as an option to infected mothers who may be likely to give birth to babies with significant developmental disabilities.
Some policymakers and anti-abortion activists have already rallied against easing or increasing access to abortion, and experts say the arrival of Zika in the U.S. during an election year makes it nearly impossible to have a conversation about abortion as a medical decision. And southern states, where climate and socio-economic conditions could invite an outbreak, also have some of the nation's toughest abortion restrictions.
“Abortion played a role in not getting funding to help control Zika, leading potentially to having to confront this question later about aborting Zika-impacted fetuses,” said Arthur Caplan, the founding head of the division of bioethics at New York University's Langone Medical Center.
Senate Republicans refused to pass a $1.1 billion measure without provisions to restrict federal funds to provide birth control. House Republicans wanted their chamber's bill to block Planned Parenthood from getting any funding. Neither body was able to pass a spending measure before Congress broke for summer recess.
Nearly 500 pregnant women in the U.S. are infected with Zika, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest report. That's resulted in 15 children born with birth defects and six lost pregnancies.
Researchers say the first indication that a fetus might have Zika-related birth defects such as microcephaly comes late in the second trimester or early in the third trimester. According to a July study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador, which already experienced Zika outbreaks, have seen requests for abortions double.