Zika Virus: Insidious
by Andrea_C on February 10, 2016 - 8:12pm
The increase in numbers of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil are unquestionably striking. In 2014, less than 150 cases of microcephaly were reported while, since only October of 2015, the Brazilian minister of health has reported 3450 cases of children born with an abnormally small head (n.a., Le Brésil s'attaque au virus Zika). With the Zika virus outbreak in the region around the same period of time, a link between the Zika virus and children born with microcephaly is presently being investigated by researchers.
Meanwhile, the population is becoming quite concerned. Zika virus, a mosquito-borne flavivirus (n.a. Zika Virus (W.H.O.)) is spreading rapidly across south and central American countries. The potential link with brain malformation is worrying pregnant women who are also being told by government officials to “refrain kissing strangers or sharing cutlery with them” as saliva could be a possible mean of transmission for the virus (Parry, Don't KISS strangers - or share cutlery and plates).
In fact, the number of pregnant women with Zika virus who have consulted their physician concerning the risk of there child being victim of brain malformation is also increasing and access to abortion is a question worth being asked (Romero, Surge of Zika Virus Has Brazilians Re-examining Strict Abortion Laws).
It is important to note that abortion in countries such as Brazil is difficult to access. Indeed, Brazil abortion laws are very strict such that abortion is only legal in three possible senarios; in case of rape/incest, if the women’s health is at risk or finally if the foetus has anencephaly - a brain malformation where an entire or part of the brain hemisphere is absent. Should any women obtain an illegal termination of pregnancy, a women risks 1-3 years of prison.
This sparks a debate: legal scholars are preparing a case to appear in front of the highest court to soften the laws that regulate abortion in Brazil (Romero, Surge of Zika Virus Has Brazilians Re-examining Strict Abortion Laws). Abortion rights activists are also using this opportunity to defend their opinions: women should not be criminalized for terminating their pregnancy as they oppose to the lawmakers. The question that remains to be settled is: should women be allowed to terminate pregnancy in the case of microcephaly?
Government officials say they have no intention of changing any of these laws. This inflexibility in ideas roots from the populations strong ties to religion. As of the latest statistics, 63% of the population identified itself to the Catholic church and a rising number of individuals identified to the Protestant church while only 8% did not identify to any religion at all (Dawson, Brazil: Where God is the Pitch). Although the number of Catholic followers has much decreased since the 1940s where statistics show 99% of the population was of Catholic faith, the present-day lawmakers in Brazil’s very conservative government are strongly influenced by their religious beliefs.
The Catholic church is strongly opposed to abortion as they consider a life to be sacred from the moment of conception. Any intentional interference with an unborn child’s life is considered as murder, thus any abortion is condemned (Saunders, The Catholic Church and Abortion).
On the other hand, raising a child with microcephaly is not an easy task. Children born with microcephaly often have other conditions such as seizures, developmental delay, intellectual disabilities, hearing and vision loss as well as problems with feeding, balance or movement (CDC, Facts about Microcephaly). It is a lifelong commitment for mothers; microcephaly is a condition that is not-treatable, instead problems caused by the condition must be cared for by means of physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Nevertheless, not every child born with the condition will experience the numerous health problems described above, in fact, in cases of mild microcephaly, a child can lead a successful life (n.a. Journalist with microcephaly slams abortion push in Brazil). Moreover, microcephaly can be diagnosed during pregnancy only around the late 2nd trimester where abortion is riskier to perform, and the fact that the severity of the conditions cannot be known before birth (CDC, Facts about Microcephaly) comes and complicates a woman decision in choosing an abortion, knowing that there is a possibility her child can lead a normal life.
Finally, only a tearing question remains to be answered: should women affected by Zika virus, in fear of giving birth to a child that will place an undeniable burden on their lives and that of their family, be granted the choice to abort pregnancy without even being able to determine whether microcephaly is going to affect their child or should the government keep its strict abortion laws, consequently, pushing desperate women towards unsafe, illegal abortion risking their lives?
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