Updated 07:19 PM EST, Thu, Nov 26, 2020

Can Zika Virus Outbreak Change Latin America's View on Abortion?

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The continued spread of the Zika virus in Latin American countries has sparked panic among people, mostly in pregnant women because of the disease's possible connection to microcephaly in babies.

With no vaccine and cure in sight, doctors have advised women to not get pregnant for a while as precaution. Given that many nations in Latin America are Catholic, access to birth control is restricted and abortion is completely banned. As Zika continues to threaten the region, is it possible that Latin America's view on abortion will change?

"This kind of recommendation that women should avoid pregnancy is not realistic," said Beatriz Galli, a Brazil-based policy advisor for the reproductive health organization Ipas, as reported by Wired. "How can they put all the burden of this situation on the women?"

Majority of Zika incidents are in Brazil, where 270 cases of microcephaly have been confirmed since October 2015, according to PRI. Around 3,500 suspected cases are still being investigated.

Birth control is available in the country, but poor and rural women can still not gain access to contraceptives, Wired wrote. A report estimated that unplanned pregnancies in the country constitute over half of all births in there.

Scientists still haven't confirmed Zika's link to microcephaly, but Brazilian researchers confirmed that the virus can be transferred from the mother's placenta to the fetus, Wired added. Faced with fear and partial information, women will have to think of ways on how to protect themselves and their children.

Brazil's 1940 penal code rules that abortion is illegal, with the exception of rape cases and certain medical conditions, Wired noted.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that terminating a pregnancy is not a crime when a fetus has anencephaly, a rare condition in which the baby's brain and skull has missing parts, PRI reported. In the midst of the Zika outbreak, powerful women's rights activists in the country are already preparing a new appeal to the Supreme Court to consider giving the right to abortion in the case of microcephaly.

"I'm preparing, I'm studying, I'm organizing arguments analyzing the Supreme Court climate to propose a case," said Debora Diniz, vice chair of the International Women's Health Coalition, as quoted by PRI. "We have everything on hand - we have an epidemic, we have the historical negligence of the Ministry of Health, and we have women's needs on the table."

Brazil's reproductive health rights movement has fought to lengthen the list of those exempted in abortion rules, but they have faced years of roadblocks, the news outlet added. Conservative politicians are currently pushing for a tough new bill that would oblige rape victims to undergo physical exams before being permitted to have an abortion.

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