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Conscience Magazine

Zika Threatens Latin American Women with Limited Reproductive Health Options

By Catholics for Choice August 22, 2016
Women in Colombia wait for test results after being diagnosed with the Zika virus. © AP PHOTO/RICARDO MAZALAN
Women in Colombia wait for test results after being diagnosed with the Zika virus. © AP PHOTO/RICARDO MAZALAN

Zika, the mosquito-borne virus known to cause microcephaly in children born to infected women, continues its spread across Latin America. According to Newsweek, 97 percent of all the women of childbearing age in Latin America and the Caribbean live in countries where abortion is either highly restricted or completely banned. Contraception access is also restricted in many countries, according to the Huffington Post.

In Brazil, where 1.5 million people may have been infected by Zika, women normally face a three-year prison sentence for abortion. Yet Brazilian lawmakers have written a draft law that would impose a four-and-a-half year sentence upon women who obtained an abortion due to microcephaly or other fetal abnormalities, TIME reports. Debora Diniz told the Wall Street Journal that her women’s advocacy group, Anis, intends to lobby Brazil’s Supreme Court to allow abortions for women infected with the Zika virus.

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that requests for pills to induce abortion increased dramatically in some Latin American countries, especially Brazil and Ecuador. The Washington Post reported that in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, women were desperately contacting Women on Web, an organization that sends abortion pills in the mail, though the packages don’t always arrive. Prof. Paola Bergallo, a researcher based in Argentina, shared a more optimistic view of Zika’s challenge to reproductive health laws in the region with Scientific American: “[W]hen you begin to separate the religious argument from the legal commitments towards human rights, restrictions begin to sag.”

Catholics for Choice

was founded in 1973 to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health.