By EMILY RUBINO
Over the past few months, the Zika virus has significantly impacted thousands of pregnant women in Brazil and other South American regions where neurological syndromes have been associated with children born to infected mothers.
Microcephaly, the birth defect linked with the disease, causes newborn’s heads and brains to be severely underdeveloped. Those who do survive after birth are extremely disabled, as many experience developmental delays, seizures, vision, movement, and or feeding problems as well as intellectual disabilities.
In addition to the effects of the Zika virus, the outbreak also calls upon the need for women’s rights in South America.
Emmanuelle Saliba explains that abortion is only legal in Brazil if a woman is impregnated because of “rape or incest, if it endangers the woman’s life, or if the fetus is developing anencephaly, a rare condition where the baby is missing parts of its brain and skull.”
According to a national survey, however, one in five Brazilian women reported they had at least one abortion; these abortions were allegedly not conducted in safe or sanitary conditions and most proved to be illegal, Debora Diniz reports.
The country’s government does not have any involvement with women in poorer areas and their health, and most of the medical attention given to women is for those living in neighborhoods of wealth.
According to Diniz, wealthy women are almost always the only ones who can afford safe abortions, while poorer women with more tendency to contract a virus such as Zika do not have proper medical facilities or funding available to them.
Although many women in South America are starting to ask for more government assistance, “last week, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil said in a statement ‘that the increase in the number of cases of microcephaly in the country does not justify (abortion),’” Janet Tappin Coelho says.
However, others like Pastor Joel Zeferino of the Baptist Alliance of Brazil argue that the virus and lack of women’s rights even in this “desperate” time are urgent issues “that needs to be discussed in a very democratic and open way,”Coelho adds.
In contrasting beliefs with other and more conservative political figures in Brazil, Zeferino calls all citizens to “include women on the outskirts of our cities, black women and poor women in particular” while also empowering them “with voices so they have their say,” Coelho notes.
While Zika has traveled to more than 25 countries in Latin and South America, governments in those regions have sent a massive message urging females to refrain from getting pregnant for up to two years.
According to Saliba, other groups have petitioned for new regulations and laws that fairly assist women infected during their pregnancy. These requests include access to pre-natal care if a women is positive for the Zika virus “if she wishes to continue the pregnancy” as well a woman’s “right to choose whether or not they wish to continue their pregnancy,” Saliba adds.
Debora Diniz, also a leader of the pro-abortion petition, declares that “‘women do not have their sexual and reproductive rights guaranteed to confront this epidemic. That is the discussion that is going on right now.’”
The World Health Organization and other medical officials have reported the passing of the virus through sexual contact and blood transfusions.
The organization has now estimated that “as many as 3 million to 4 million people across the Americas will be infected with the virus in the next year” Sandee LaMotte and Michael Pearson of CNN report.
Currently, no more information has been released about how the Brazilian government will handle the abortion laws in the country, however, women who are thinking about becoming pregnant should question relocating to areas with few reported cases of the virus.
Coelho, Janet Tappin. “Zika virus: Christian churches split as epidemic sparks new abortion debate in Brazil.” Independent. Independent Digital News and Media Limited, 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/zika-virus-christian-churches-split-as-epidemic-sparks-new-abortion-debate-in-brazil-a6868046.html>.
Diniz, Debora. “The Zika Virus and Brazilian Women’s Right to Choose.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 8 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/08/opinion/the-zika-virus-and-brazilian-womens-right-to-choose.html?_r=0>.
LaMotte, Sandee, and Michael Pearson. “CDC issues new safe-sex guidelines around Zika virus.” CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/05/health/zika-urine-saliva/>.
Saliba, Emmanuelle. “Zika Scare Reopens Abortion Debate in Brazil.” NBC News. NBCNEWS.COM, 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/zika-virus-outbreak/zika-scare-reopens-abortion-debate-brazil-n512296>.