Zika Virus Forces Brazilian Government to Reconsider Abortion Law
With the recent outbreak of Zika in Brazil, there is growing support for a new exception to Brazil’s rigid abortion law.
Abortions are illegal in Brazil. However, there are exceptions. For example, abortions are legal in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the mother was raped. In 2012, there was also an exception for anencephaly, a rare brain condition causing a baby to be born without part of its brain and skull.
Now, a petition is circulating to create another exception to Brazil’s abortion law. This time, it would be for mothers infected with the Zika virus. The petition has the support of lawyers, activities and scientists, and is expected to reach the Brazilian Supreme Court in the coming months.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Zika virus is spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These are the same mosquitoes that spread the dengue and chikungunya viruses. Unlike these other viruses though, Zika apparently causes microcephaly, a disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. Scientists believe Zika affects unborn babies in the first trimester of a mother’s pregnancy. They also think women previously infected with the virus will not have an increased risk of later having a child with microcephaly.
The group supporting the petition to change Brazil’s abortion law blames the government for the Zika outbreak. They claim the government has not done enough over the years to get rid of the mosquitoes causing the problem. Hence, they believe the government should give pregnant women infected with Zika access to safe and legal abortions. Alternatively, they argue the government should bear the financial responsibility for raising the children born with this serious brain disorder.
There is great concern that if pregnant women infected with the Zika virus are not allowed to legally get abortions, there will be an uptick in illegal abortions in unsafe environments. Without a legal option, women may resort to clandestine clinics where the World Health Organization (WHO) says some 47,000 women worldwide die each year.
Time is of the essence to stop the spread of Zika and to treat those with the virus. While scientists and medical professionals are hard at work, so too are the jurists and government officials who will ultimately decide whether or not to create another exception to Brazil’s abortion law.