The Zika virus—which currently has no vaccine or cure—has been spreading at an alarming rate throughout South America. Cases in the U.S. and Australia have also been discovered, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed the situation a “public health emergency.” The Zika virus can transfer from a mother to her fetus, which puts pregnant women at high risk.
Abortions are currently illegal in Brazil, except for instances involving rape and in which the mother’s life is in danger. Abortion activists are now working to change that due to the proliferation of the Zika virus.
Researchers have potentially linked the virus to microcephaly, which is a “condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and serious developmental delays,” according to the Huffington Post. Brazil currently has 270 confirmed instances of microcephalic babies, and thousands of additional cases are being investigated.
Debora Diniz, a University of Brasilia law professor, is at the center of the efforts to petition Brazil’s Supreme Court to allow legal abortions in cases of microcephaly. The BBC reports that the petition claims “the Brazilian state is responsible for the Zika outbreak," due to its negligent efforts in eradicating the mosquito that spreads the Zika virus.
Diniz states that this is an issue of poverty as well: “It is important to remember, when we talk about abortion and reproductive rights in general, that we have a social class split in Brazil—wealthy women will access safe abortion, legal or illegal, and poor women will go to the illegal market or continue to be pregnant."
South American governments, thus far, have not been responding well to the issue. The El Salvadorean government told women to avoid getting pregnant for the next two years, while the Columbian government made the same recommendation, though for only six to eight months.
In El Salvador, abortion is completely illegal, with no exceptions, so in propagating these ridiculous, unfeasible recommendations, the government is putting the health of thousands of women and children at risk.
WHO has not been vocal about the virus in relation to reproductive rights, although it remains a crucial issue—Katja Iversen, chief executive of Women Deliver, told The Guardian that, “Yes, it is about a mosquito carrying a dangerous virus, but it is also about a health system failing women.”
Brazil’s Supreme Court is set to receive the petition within the next two months.
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