The United Nations recommended on Friday that South American countries legalize abortion as they work to curb the spread of the Zika virus.
With the spread of the virus, some countries have noticed a huge increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, 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. Because of the potential link between Zika and microcephaly, some countries are advising women to avoid getting pregnant.
Abortion activists are using the crisis to push for legalized abortion, which is currently prohibited in most of South America. On Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad AL Hussein echoed abortion advocates’ call and urged Latin American governments to increase access to “reproductive health services,” including abortion, CNS News reports.
“In Zika-affected countries that have restrictive laws governing women’s reproductive rights, the situation facing women and girls is particularly stark on a number of levels,” he said.
“In situations where sexual violence is rampant, and sexual and reproductive health services are criminalized, or simply unavailable, efforts to halt this crisis will not be enhanced by placing the focus on advising women and girls not to become pregnant.
“Many of the key issues revolve around men’s failure to uphold the rights of women and girls, and a range of strong measures need to be taken to tackle these underlying problems,” Zeid added.
“Upholding human rights is essential to an effective public health response and this requires that governments ensure women, men and adolescents have access to comprehensive and affordable quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, without discrimination,” he said.
“Laws and policies that restrict her access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations in order to ensure the right to health for all in practice,” Zeid concluded.
Unfortunately, the UN official did not mention the human rights of unborn babies, which currently are recognized in most South American countries.
Several families and individuals who have experiences with microcephaly are responding to the crisis by reminding society that the lives of people with disabilities are valuable, too.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife in Brazil also rejected the idea that abortion can help solve the health crisis.
“Nothing justifies an abortion,” said the Rev. Luciano Brito, spokesman for the archdiocese. “Just because a fetus has microcephaly won’t make us favorable [to abortion].”
The Centers for Disease Control is advising people to use birth control or abstain from sex if they live or have traveled in 26 countries and territories with Zika virus problems. The World Health Organization also has declared the virus outbreak an international health emergency. No vaccine or cure has been developed yet.