Microcephaly, which can severely impact a child’s development, is being linked to a massive outbreak of the Zika virus across Central and South America.
The rapid increase in microcephaly cases has reinvigorated powerful women’s rights activists all across Latin America to consider granting the right to abortion in the case of microcephaly. Abortion is illegal across most of the region.
Government officials across the region are advising women to avoid getting pregnant, for fear that the fast-spreading Zika virus may cause severe brain defects in unborn children. But the question remains how? Not only is abortion illegal across most of those countries because the Catholic and evangelical churches are influential and have traditionally been anti-abortion. But there is also a massive unmet need for contraception and sex education and avoiding pregnancy in the affected countries may be easier said than done.
“You’re asking women to make a choice that sounds logical from a health perspective, but it’s not a real choice,” says Tarah Demant, senior director of the Identity and Discrimination Unit at Amnesty International. “It’s putting women in an impossible place, by asking them to put the sole responsibility of public health on their shoulders by not getting pregnant, when over half don’t have that choice.”
And to make matters worse, according to the World Health Organization,18% of births in Latin America are to teenage mothers, and Amnesty International estimates that more than 50% of the pregnancies in the region are unplanned.