A study funded by U.S. tax dollars and published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that women in countries hard-hit by the Zika virus have increased their use of abortion-inducing drugs from the abortion website Women on Web (WoW).
But a spokesperson for a pro-life obstetricians group told The Daily Caller that the study is “a propaganda piece for legalizing abortion” that “would never pass a peer review.”
Entitled “Requests for Abortion in Latin America Related to Concern about Zika Virus Exposure,” the study examined requests for purchases of abortion-inducing drugs from Women on Web, which provides the drugs illegally in nations where abortion is mostly or completely outlawed.
Abortion advocates, including the High Commissioner for the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, have been pushing for expanded access to the procedure since the Zika virus began spreading last year. Tens of thousands of women in Brazil, Columbia, and elsewhere have been infected, and at least 1,500 babies in Brazil alone have been diagnosed with microcephaly, though several studies have shown that a very small percentage of babies born to women who have contracted Zika have any disabilities.
According to the study’s summary, it examined 19 nations “that issued warnings to pregnant women about complications associated with Zika virus infection…” In those nations, “requests for abortion through WoW increased significantly,” though its authors claim the study likely underestimated the rise in abortions.
“Our approach may underestimate the effect of the advisories on demand for abortion, since many women may have used an unsafe method, accessed misoprostol from local pharmacies or the black market, or visited local underground providers. But accurate data on these choices are difficult to obtain. Thus, our data provide a window on how concern about Zika virus infection may have affected the lives of pregnant women in Latin America.”
The study was conducted over a four-month period by abortion researchers and two top-ranking officials with Women on Web. Dr. Donna Harrison, the Executive Director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, told TheDC that study’s methodology was extremely flawed.
“This ‘study’ is not really a study,” Harrison said. “It is a propaganda piece for legalizing abortion. It is very telling the NEJM publishes information about illegal activity.”
“The places where WoW distributes their illegal abortion drugs are countries where abortion is illegal. Thus, WoW is breaking the law of a sovereign nation. Further, there is no verification of anything that WoW reports. This would never pass a peer review, and thus is not science but WoW propaganda written not for knowledge, but rather designed to pressure sovereign nations into legalizing abortion.”
In short, Harrison concluded, “This is political activism, not science.”
Abortion groups say they want to prevent mothers from having to bear and raise babies with Zika-related disabilities such as microcephaly. But according to Harrison, “the risk of microcephaly in mothers infected with Zika in the first trimester appears to be about one percent. The new study from Colombia confirms the findings from the French Polynesian study that there appears to be no risk of microcephaly in second and third trimester infections.”
NEJM did not respond to questions about Harrison’s criticisms.
Dr. Margaret Honein, co-lead of the Pregnancy and Birth Defects Task Force for the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Zika response, was more cautious in explaining the risks of Zika to unborn children, but like Harrison, she told TheDC that most women with Zika are not passing related disorders on to their offspring.
“The recent study in NEJM (published June 15, 2016) showed that among a subset of pregnant women with Zika virus disease, a majority (over 90 percent) of those infected in the third trimester delivered no infants with apparent birth defects, including microcephaly. Although these preliminary data from Colombia suggest that Zika virus infection during the third trimester of pregnancy is not linked to birth defects like microcephaly, continued monitoring of the impact of Zika virus upon pregnancy and infant outcomes is ongoing, and we do not know if third trimester infection with Zika virus might have other effects on brain development,” said Honein.
“We still don’t know the level of risk from a Zika infection during pregnancy, meaning if a woman is infected, how often will her fetus have problems. However, preliminary reports suggest the risk for microcephaly from Zika virus infection in the first trimester might be in the range of 1-13 percent. Further information is needed to understand the risk of Zika virus infection during each trimester of pregnancy.”
Honein explained that “while we don’t yet know when during pregnancy Zika virus infection poses the greatest risk to the fetus, the evidence is strongest for exposure in early pregnancy and fetal brain defects. More data is needed to understand the risk during each trimester of pregnancy. We also don’t know the full spectrum of health effects. For infants born to women infected with Zika who don’t have microcephaly, we simply don’t know and may not know for years if there will be long-term consequences on brain development.”
The NEJM’s WoW study came just a day after the National Institutes for Health (NIH), which partially funded the study, announced it is prepping for its own study later this year. Both NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF) contributed tax dollars to the study.
One of the authors received $302,838 from NSF for five years of research, from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2018. A spokesperson for the The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which is under the NIH, told TheDC that the agency “provided general research infrastructure support to Princeton University’s Office of Population Research through the Population Dynamics Centers Research Infrastructure program. This program provides core support for computing, statistical, administrative, data management, technical training, and other services to Princeton’s Office of Population Research, but the grant does not fund individual studies.”
According to data provided by the spokesperson, $398,520 was provided for the grant. Because it doesn’t fund specific studies, “the NICHD does not fund, review, or select research topics or studies pursued by the individual scientists.”