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Op-ed highlights need for family planning access in combatting Zika

August 26, 2016 — The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged men and women who have visited Zika-affected areas in the United States, "including Miami, [to] wait at least eight weeks before trying to get pregnant," but "[p]erhaps the CDC hasn't considered what these recommendations mean to people in Florida," columnist Alice Pettway writes in an opinion piece for the Progressive Media Project/Waterloo Region Record.

According to Pettway, NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Florida "a grade of F ... for restricting access to reproductive health care." She explains that "73 percent of Florida's counties have no abortion clinic" and the state opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), "leaving many uninsured women with no access to contraception."

Pettway questions, "How is a woman with no access to family planning supposed to keep herself from getting pregnant for eight weeks?" She adds that the state requires schools "to teach abstinence in sex education classes but there is no requirement to include information about contraception."

According to Pettway, "We are already witnessing the perfect storm of mosquitos, virus and lack of access to reproductive health care." Pettway points to Brazil, where "before the Zika outbreak, the country averaged 157 registered cases of microcephaly per year." However, [b]etween Oct. 22, 2015, and July 23, 2016, there were 1,749 confirmed cases."

Pettway writes that while "[i]t's impossible to predict exactly how Zika transmission will play out in the United States ... we have some good clues -- and they're alarming." She explains that Texas, another state "at high risk of a Zika outbreak," also "got a grade of F on NARAL's reproductive rights report." In addition, Pettway notes that Texas "also restricts low-income and young women's access to abortion and has failed to adopt a federally financed Medicaid expansion."

According to Pettway, "the problem doesn't end with Texas and Florida." She writes, "Of the 25 states within the range of the two mosquitos that spread the Zika virus, according to CDC maps, 18 received F's from NARAL Pro-Choice America on their reproductive rights status. Thirteen do not require contraception to be discussed in sex ed classes, and 17 have state sex ed guidelines that stress abstinence."

Noting that Zika in the United States will draw attention to "what it means to not have access to contraception, and safe, legal abortions," Pettway concludes, "The bottom line is Zika will come and go, the need for strong protection of women's reproductive rights will not" (Pettway, Progressive Media Project/Waterloo Region Record, 8/25).