O’Connor: Young conservatives should consider adapting views on women’s health organizations in light of Zika virus

Young conservatives should be open to adapting their views on health issues in times of emergency, no matter what moral dilemma they may face.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that there are 14 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in the United States that were sexually transmitted, which includes two pregnant women. The news comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak an international public health emergency earlier this month and cited that that four million people could be infected by the end of the year.

A crucial aspect of Zika is the danger it poses for pregnant mothers. The virus, which is transmitted through mosquito bites and unprotected sex, is linked with microcephaly and has been proven to lead to severe underdevelopment in newborns. The disorder induces symptoms that can be life-threatening in some cases, including seizures, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and hearing and vision problems.

As of Feb. 17, 11 people have tested positive for Zika in New York, one of whom was from the Orange County region, as reported by The Daily Gazette.

As the virus spreads, and consequently the debate regarding abortion and a women’s choice regarding her body, young conservatives can be the greatest voice for change when it comes to supporting Planned Parenthood and centers like it in dire straits. It should be recognized that it’s possible to still be pro-life while making exceptions in times of a medical crisis, considering these organizations can do a lot of good on the world stage.

“The extreme worry is for women who are pregnant — the CDC has some recommendations,” said Robert Rubinstein, a professor of anthropology and international relations at Syracuse University. “There are some promising technologies on the horizon, but none have been released yet.”

Until these resources become available, women’s health centers can provide contraceptives so that pregnancy can be avoided in areas where Zika is prevalent. And if a mother gets the tragic news that her child will have developmental disabilities from microcephaly, conservatives should support the opportunity for women to have an abortion.

This type of claim was disregarded, though, when the issue was brought up to the Brazilian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which called abortion unjustifiable. Some Brazilian legislators have even proposed strengthening laws so that women who abort fetuses with microcephaly would be sentenced to jail for more than four years. But the measure that has been rightfully met with pushback, considering there are more than 4,000 suspected cases of the disease in the country, according to TIME.

But the threat of Zika knows no borders, and young conservatives should do their part in emphasizing safety and combatting the virus by considering temporarily reassessing their position on Planned Parenthood.

Maybe Planned Parenthood isn’t a totally ethical organization, but The Washington Post reported that abortions are only 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood offers. The organization’s centers have also been at the center of treating and educating people of all ages about sexually transmitted diseases and prioritize making forms of birth control readily available.

Even Pope Francis, the face of the Catholic church, has encouraged the use of contraceptives to curb the Zika virus. He noted that birth control should only be allowed in special cases, reinforcing the fact that there are times when society’s fierce pro-life advocates should reform.

In regard to the Pope’s suggestions, Maggie Byrne, a campus minister at SU, said that contraception does not fall in the category of an absolute evil because there is a difference between ending a life and avoiding it.

“(The Pope’s) statement does simply that in situations such as these, using contraceptives may be permissible and that those with well-formed consciences should carefully discern whether to use contraceptives,” said Byrne in an email. “It is not absolutely wrong to avoid becoming pregnant and in this situation, it is advisable to do so.”

Two law professors from Georgetown University, a Catholic and SU peer institution, have also defended Planned Parenthood’s work and made the case that women at risk all over the world should be allowed to use birth control and have access to abortion. And these professors are absolutely right. With the number of U.S. cases that are linked to unprotected sex, more conservatives should be conscious of this reality to embrace the use of contraceptives and the organizations that ensure they are accessible.

Increased conservative backing until the virus is no longer a threat will allow these to services remain available across the board and should be met with support in New York state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made free Zika virus testing available for pregnant women who have traveled to areas where it is prevalent, no matter if she has symptoms or not, a move Rubinstein believes is warranted.

“It would make tremendous sense for pregnant women who have traveled to have access to testing,” Rubinstein said. “All 11 cases in New York were travel-oriented. There were no locally acquired cases of Zika in the continental United States.”

The availability of free testings will encourage pregnant women who have traveled to make sure that their baby will be healthy. The Zika threat is real and pregnant mothers who test positive, regardless of whether or not they choose to abort, deserve cooperation across each political aisle.

Older and more traditional conservatives may have yet to realize that supporting women’s health organizations at times like these is the right thing to do. And it’s up to future generations to forge ahead and stand for what’s right when the country is faced with a mounting health crisis.

Kyle O’Connor is a sophomore sport management major and political science minor. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at


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