Crisis pregnancies can come in many forms. Women can be pressured and coerced. They can be scared about money. Mothers might worry they can’t take care of the children they’re already parenting. And still other women might have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and be scared of passing it on to their preborn child — especially an STD like the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. The discovery of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s led to widespread fear and panic, as well as stigma and discrimination against people who are HIV positive. And despite decades of research and information about HIV, misconceptions still fly, including the idea that being HIV positive means you can’t be a mother.
Abortion organizations have been known to profit from the assumption that abortion might be “needed” if a woman is HIV+. According to the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition, “HIV positive women may need abortion care for various reasons.” They continued:
HIV positive women have also chosen abortions because of fears that our pregnancy would lead to our own poor health or death, so rendering our older children motherless; and that our babies might also contract HIV or be unhealthy or die soon after birth: which would cause immense suffering for the baby and grief for our families.
The pro-abortion site Rewire likewise argued that HIV-positive women need access to abortion, writing, “Research shows that HIV-positive women seek abortions for many of the same reasons other women do, but also that HIV-positive status can raise unique issues, such as fear about how a pregnancy will impact a woman’s health, and concerns about transmitting HIV during pregnancy.”
But do women who are HIV positive actually need abortions? Or can they safely give birth?
Thanks to advancements in medicine, there is no reason an HIV-positive woman cannot successfully have a healthy child. It is possible to transmit HIV from mother to baby during pregnancy, labor, and while breastfeeding. But as the Department of Health and Human Services points out, continuing HIV treatment during and after pregnancy can reduce the risk of transmission to almost zero. Using formula instead of breastfeeding, and giving the baby anti-HIV medications after birth, can also lower the chance of transmitting the disease. HHS reports that the number of cases of children infected with HIV from pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding have dropped by 90% in the last 30 years.
The CDC likewise reports that an HIV-positive woman can give birth to a baby completely free of HIV. They also reported that perinatal diagnoses have further decreased by 41% between 2012 and 2016. And ACOG’s recommended regimen for HIV-positive mothers is the same: continue the HIV regimen and have the baby tested for HIV periodically in the first few years after birth. Nowhere is abortion mentioned as necessary, or even recommended.
But let’s say that the baby may end up as one of the very rare cases where transmission does take place. Is that risk worth an abortion? No; as long as an HIV-positive person continues receiving treatment, their life expectancy is, on average, age 78 — on par with the typical population. And treatment has improved over time as well. The anti-retroviral drugs are now less toxic, with fewer side effects, and with more options if the drugs need to be switched up.
Now, some may argue that this is all well and good, but some women cannot afford the cost of the drugs necessary to keep themselves — and possibly, their children — healthy. But there are resources to help there, also. HIV.gov offers numerous ways to pay for HIV treatment, including federal resources for low-income Americans, like the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. As the website explains:
The program is for those who do not have sufficient healthcare coverage or financial resources to cope with HIV disease. Ryan White fills gaps in care not covered by these other sources. The program is divided into several “parts” to meet the needs of different communities and populations, and includes support for an AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).
Of course, in developing countries, these resources are often not available. But that doesn’t mean the answer is to tell expectant mothers their only option is abortion; it’s to work to provide these resources on a global scale, so no mother ever has to feel she can’t afford treatment, and therefore, must have an abortion. Non-profit organizations like AVAC, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and the International AIDS Society are leading the fight on that front.
It’s understandable to be scared in such a situation. Every parent wants the best for their child, and the prospect of passing on to their children a disease that is considered a horrible, life-threatening terminal illness, is terrifying. But HIV is now a manageable illness, and it is not only possible, but probable, to successfully carry a pregnancy and give birth without transmitting the disease. You may be HIV-positive. But it doesn’t mean you cannot be a mother.
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