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New Zika Report: Women in Areas Most at Risk Have the Least Access to Reproductive Health

September 13, 2016

As Congress prepares to pass a much needed funding bill to fight the Zika outbreak, a new report by Population Institute, Double Trouble, shows that there is a dangerous overlap in the U.S. between states potentially affected by Zika and states ranking low on reproductive health and rights. In these states, women—particularly low-income women—may have more limited access to family planning clinics and abortion services than women in other parts of the country. Florida, Texas, and other states in the Gulf region, where Zika may pose the greatest threat, received poor or failing grades in the group’s scorecard in January.

 The report also identifies countries and Zika-affected areas in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, where access to reproductive health or abortion services are limited or severely restricted.

 “It’s a cruel irony that the women most at risk of Zika are often the ones with the least access to reproductive health services,” said Bob Walker, President of Population Institute that authored the report Double Trouble. “Congress must fully fund Zika measures or else millions of women and their families will be put in jeopardy.  This is no time to be playing political football with the reproductive health of women."

 Women in Zika-affected areas require access to a full range of family planning and reproductive health services in order to avoid unintended pregnancies and sexual transmission of the virus, but the level and quality of access to those services varies widely across the U.S. and Latin America. The report contains maps highlighting the dangerous overlap between Zika-threatened areas and areas where women may have limited access to family planning and reproductive health services, including the following map.

Access to reproductive health services in the U.S. can differ widely depending on where you live due to variation in state laws and levels of public funding. Many of the states such as Virginia, Florida and Texas receiving poor or failing grades in the Population Institute’s 2016 50-State Report Card on Reproductive Health and Rights and are in the region more likely to be affected by a mosquito-borne outbreak of the Zika virus. The report card looks at a number of key measures including teenage pregnancy rate, unintended pregnancy rate, sex education requirements, access to emergency contraception, Medicaid eligibility rules, and abortion restrictions and access.

 Rates of unintended pregnancy are generally higher in those states most likely to be impacted by Zika. While the global average for unintended pregnancy is 40%, the unintended pregnancy rate in southern states is alarmingly higher: Virginia 51%, Florida 58%, Georgia 57%, Alabama 48%, Mississippi 57%, Louisiana 57%, Texas 56%, according to Guttmacher Institute.

 The Institute’s report underscores the vital importance of boosting Congressional and other funding for the fight against Zika, and a corresponding need to improve access to reproductive health services in areas potentially affected by Zika.

 

The full report is available here.

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