As the threat of homegrown Zika spreads, Americans are getting more realistic about abortion regulations.
A poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and STAT last month found that while 61 percent of Americans oppose abortions after 24 weeks, a majority would actually support late-term abortions in the case of microcephaly — a condition in which a baby is born with a underdeveloped brain and skull. Microcephaly, found in infants whose mothers have been infected by Zika, is only detectable after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
However, 22 states ban abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. And just this March, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (now Republican candidate for Vice President) signed a bill entirely blocking women from seeking an abortion “solely” because the fetus had a fetal abnormality — like microcephaly or Down syndrome.
“The data are clear that although people aren’t in favor of late-term abortion in general they are sympathetic to women when their pregnancies can be affected by Zika virus,” Gillian SteelFisher, deputy director of the Harvard Opinion Research program, told STAT.
This data adds to the growing number of studies that have found context to be crucial in correctly assessing a person’s stance on abortion. A 2013 poll commissioned by Planned Parenthood found that when given circumstantial details about a woman’s need for a late-term abortion, Americans are much more open to the idea. Without context, many voters unfamiliar with abortions aren’t aware that a later-term abortion is often a woman’s last choice, and finances or inability to get time off push them to wait. Most of these late-term abortion laws are based on unscientific evidence that a fetus can feel pain after a certain amount of time in the womb.
A 2015 poll conducted by by Vox asked participants to think about someone, other than themselves, seeking to terminate a pregnancy. The question was straightforward: “What would you want that experience to be like for her?” Most of those who identified as pro-life said that it should be “nonjudgmental,” “without added burdens,” “informed by medically accurate information, and “affordable.” Most of these phrases define the very tactics pro-life GOP lawmakers use to make abortion inaccessible.http://thinkprogress.org/health/2016/06/24/3791714/abortion-requests-rise-zika/This perspective is what initially made many progressive voters wary of Democratic Vice President candidate Tim Kaine, who is a pro-life Catholic. However, Kaine has a historically pro-choice voting record, and he’s said that abortion is a choice that should be made by an individual woman, not the government. This position, however, has been found to be held by a majority of voters.
This public reaction to Zika’s threat on America’s newborns goes against other countries’ responses to Zika earlier in the year. Most countries hit hardest by the virus, including El Salvador and Colombia, have stuck by their government’s harsh anti-abortion laws, let alone their limited dispersal of birth control. Brazil, in fact, moved to tighten restrictions on abortions — promising incarceration to any women thought to have aborted their child due to microcephaly.
While American officials have not increased penalties for abortions specifically related to Zika, Congress has still yet to move on passing through any kind of comprehensive funding to protect the country from the looming virus — including financing reproductive health centers.