S.C. congressman makes controversial comments about Zika virus and abortion

U.S. Rep Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said he opposes abortions for babies exposed to the Zika virus in the womb. Scientists believe Zika is responsible for an explosion of microcephaly cases in South America.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, who represents parts of the Upstate, on Wednesday said during a meeting on Capitol Hill that he opposes abortions related to Zika virus exposure.

“This push for more abortion access (in South America) due to potential birth defects from microcephaly is heartbreaking, especially since there are different degrees of microcephaly and some children born with these special needs may go on to live very normal lives,” said the Laurens Republican.

A spokesman for Duncan’s office said he was unavailable to discuss his remarks on Thursday.

They were made during a meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, of which Duncan is the chairman.

Scientists have identified a potential link between the mosquito-borne Zika virus and thousands of new microcephaly cases in South America. Babies born with microcephaly have abnormally small heads. Many of them do not survive, and, according to the Cleveland Clinic, even those that do survive face poor “prospects of attaining normal brain function.”

The World Health Organization has declared the Zika outbreak in South America a public health emergency — the first since the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa. The Obama Administration has requested that Congress approve $1.8 billion in emergency funds to combat the virus.

Some South American countries have recommended that women delay pregnancies altogether amid this Zika outbreak, even though access to contraception and abortion in South America are limited.

“I believe every person, including the unborn child, is made in the image of God and therefore has inherent worth,” Duncan said. “Thus, we must do everything we can to support the very real needs of women in Latin America and the Caribbean who are facing incredibly difficult situations while also seeking to protect the lives of unborn children.”

According to his website, Duncan is a member of the Pro-Life Caucus.

The species of mosquito that carries the Zika virus lives in South Carolina, but no cases of the virus have been reported so far in this state.

On Thursday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported there were no confirmed cases of Zika in South Carolina. DHEC had previously sent at least four blood samples to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing, and all came back negative. Eleven tests are currently pending, five with the CDC and six with the DHEC lab. DHEC is now able to perform the testing in-house.

During a Medical University of South Carolina Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, Dr. David Soper told board members that a vaccination against Zika virus is likely “years away.”

“Maybe this is all overblown,” the OB-GYN specialist said. “The concern is how much we don’t know.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.