Zika Virus May Prompt Pro-Life Countries in South America to Legalize Abortion

International   Micaiah Bilger   Jan 28, 2016   |   3:57PM    Washington, DC

Abortion activists are using the Zika virus outbreak to push for legalized abortion in pro-life South American countries.

The mosquito-borne virus, a growing concern in South America, is potentially causing brain disorders such as microcephaly in unborn babies whose mothers are infected. Microcephaly is a neurological disorder where a baby’s head is significantly smaller and the brain is abnormally developed, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition is not typically fatal, but it can cause health problems throughout the baby’s life.

Several South American countries report that the number of babies born with the disorder has been increasing astronomically with the spread of the virus. “Between October 2015 and January this year medics in [Brazil] have registered almost 4,000 cases of microcephaly in newborns, compared to 163 in a normal year,” according to The Pool.

This has led health officials in many South American countries to ask women to refrain from getting pregnant while they attempt to curb the spread of the virus, Wired reports.

The report continues:

But most of these Latin American countries are also Catholic, so access to birth control is often poor and abortion is flat-out banned. “This kind of recommendation that women should avoid pregnancy is not realistic,” says Beatriz Galli, a Brazil-based policy advisor for the reproductive health organization Ipas. “How can they put all the burden of this situation on the women?”

In Brazil, where Zika has hit the hardest, birth control is available—though poor and rural women can still get left out. One report estimates that unplanned pregnancies make up over half of all births in the country. And abortion is illegal, except in cases of rape and certain medical conditions. A raft of impending legislation in Brazil’s conservative-held congress may make it harder to get abortions even in those exempted cases.

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Now throw Zika into that. Scientists still haven’t confirmed the link to microcephaly, but Brazilian researchers have confirmed the virus can jump through the placenta from mother to fetus. Circumstantially, the number of of microcephaly cases has gone up 20 fold since Zika first reached Brazil. In the face of fear and incomplete information, women will have to figure out how to protect themselves and their children.

… Zika makes the confusion even worse. The virus doesn’t make everyone ill, so not having any symptoms is no guarantee of safety. If a woman does get sick, the symptoms of Zika are not unique and diagnostic tests are not reliably available. Even diagnosis of microcephaly via ultrasound is tricky early in pregnancy. It can be hard to know how abnormal the size of an unborn fetus’ head is, says Kjersti Aagaard, an obstetrician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, because “those measures are what help us date a pregnancy.” The reasoning is circular: A fetus’s head may be too small for their age, but if you don’t know the age, you don’t have a reference point.

Abortion activists have their own solution: legalize abortion.

“This is a huge opportunity for the anti-abortion law to be reformed,” said Paula Ávila-Guillen, Latin America specialist at the pro-abortion New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

Ávila-Guillen, also of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told BuzzFeed that the governments are placing a burden on women by asking them to wait to get pregnant but not allowing them to abort if they do.

“The question now is, will these women also be persecuted?” Ávila-Guillen said of women infected with Zika who have illegal abortions.

Beatriz Galli, a Brazil-based policy adviser for the reproductive health organization Ipas, “suspects individual women infected with Zika may try petitioning judges to allow abortions. Brazilian judges have on rare occasions granted abortions to women whose fetuses were in danger of severe birth defects, and one judge has expressed sympathy for Zika-infected women carrying babies with microcephaly.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization and others are involved in working to curb the spread of the virus. No vaccine or cure has been developed yet.

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