Will the Zika virus prompt Latin America to rethink abortion and birth control?
The Zika virus outbreak and its probable association with microcephaly in newborns are prompting calls to loosen Latin America's strict abortion laws and make birth control more readily available.
Abortion is fully criminalized in six countries in the region. In El Salvador, for instance, women who have abortions can face prison. In many other countries, including Brazil and Colombia, abortion is permitted only in cases of rape, incest or fetal impairment.
As Zika raises anxieties about babies born with significant medical problems, some physicians and reproductive health advocates think the virus should create another legal exception for abortion.
Even though abortion is outlawed in much of Latin America, women still seek it out at legal and physical risk. In fact, 13 percent of maternal deaths (the fourth highest cause) in the region can be attributed to unsafe abortions.
Concern about Zika could lead to real change for reproductive health for millions of women in the region. But this can happen only if the expansion of abortion and contraception is based on human rights and reproductive health equity, not driven primarily by fears of defective babies.
Abortion is restricted in most of Latin America
Abortion is fully criminalized, with no exceptions, in El Salvador, Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua and Suriname. In El Salvador, 30 to 40 women are serving prison sentences for seeking abortions.
In many other countries, including Argentina, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia, abortion is permitted under certain circumstances.
In Brazil, for instance, abortion has been allowed since 1940 in instances of rape or endangerment to the woman. Women who seek abortions outside these exceptions and the physicians who perform the procedure can be imprisoned. >