The Centers for Disease Control issued a warning recently recommending that pregnant women and their partners avoid traveling to South Texas due to concerns about getting infected with the Zika virus. In Texas, the disease has been transmitted locally at least five times so far.
The warning comes as the 85th Biennial State Legislative Session will soon begin, and state lawmakers have already filed plenty of bills focused on further restricting access to abortions in the Lone Star State.
So far, Texas Republicans have filed some real winners, but the one that is most troubling in a state where people are locally contracting Zika may be House Bill 87, filed by state Rep. Matt Schaefer. Right now, a woman can get an abortion after the 20-week period if the pregnancy isn't viable, the mother's health is at risk or there are severe abnormalities in the fetus. However, if HB 87 passes that would change and women would only be able to get abortions after 20 weeks if their lives are at risk. All abortions based on fetal abnormalities would be banned in Texas.
It's a, shall we say, interesting approach to take considering it's already been pointed out that Texas is one of the states both most likely to have to deal with the Zika virus and least prepared to help pregnant women infected with it avoid having babies born with severe birth defects.
Earlier this year Kaiser Health reported that Texas might be one of the least prepared of all the states likely to have to deal with Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that causes severe flu-like symptoms. Women who are infected while pregnant are prone to have miscarriages or have children born with severe birth defects, including microcephaly.
Kaiser notes that poor women are more likely to contract Zika because they “might live in housing that lacks air-conditioning, or that allows easy mosquito entry," or not have the money to get mosquito repellent or clothing to keep the bugs from biting and infecting them.
Poor women are also less likely to have access to adequate birth control or to have regular prenatal exams, because Texas opted out of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, has cut funding to Planned Parenthood and forced many women's health clinics across the state to close through stringent abortion laws in recent years.
Another recent study found that about 6 percent of the women infected with Zika while pregnant have babies with birth defects. Those may not sound like bad odds, but the chance of having a baby with birth defects is nearly twice as high for women infected early in a pregnancy, according to CBS.
Even worse, the women most likely to be exposed to Zika are less likely to have prenatal exams, so they could go through their entire pregnancy with no idea that the child they're carrying has been exposed to the disease.
In other words, women might not know that there's anything wrong until late in the pregnancy. And if HB 87 passes, a woman who finds out too late, after she is 20 weeks pregnant, will have no way out of the situation and will likely be someone least able to care for a severely deformed child.
Unless, of course, the mother's health is also in danger. Then she can have an abortion. Why? Because Texas lawmakers totally put women first. Sort of.
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