Zika increases demand for abortions in countries where it’s illegal

Countries where it’s illegal are under pressure

Los Angeles Times
Published: 3/13/2016 10:17:54 PM

As the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects, spreads across Latin America, the demand for abortions is increasing in countries where there are few legal avenues to obtain one.

“It has made the issue more salient and has highlighted the cruelty behind some of these restrictive abortion laws,” said Francoise Girard, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“There is an incredible amount of anxiety, fear and stress among women that are pregnant,” she added.

Leticia Zenevich, a spokeswoman for Women on Web, an international nonprofit that provides advice and drugs to women who want abortions but live in countries where the practice is banned, said that requests for abortion-inducing medication have surged since the outbreak began.

In 2015, the group received 10,400 emails from women in the Spanish-speaking Americas and 9,500 emails from women largely in Brazil inquiring about abortion medication, Zenevich said. She said the group had not yet calculated the exact increase in requests for antiabortion drugs since the Zika outbreak, but they believe the numbers could have doubled.

The nonprofit has been providing abortion pills free of charge to women in Zika-affected countries since Feb. 1, Zenevich said. Typically the drugs cost between $78 and $100.

Abortion rights activists and health specialists fear that the failure to loosen restrictions on abortion might force more women to undergo dangerous, clandestine abortions, which are already a problem across much of Latin America.

“During this crisis women will look for any means to have an abortion,” Zenevich said. “The landscape is very tragic for women in Latin America.”

El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Haiti, Honduras, Suriname and the Dominican Republic outlaw abortion with no legal exceptions, not even to save a woman’s life. More than a dozen El Salvadoran women have been sentenced to as long as 50 years behind bars as a result of miscarriages or stillborn births, civil rights advocates say.

Brazil, Venezuela, Panama, Paraguay, Guatemala and Mexico are among the nations that prohibit abortion except when necessary to save a woman’s life. Saving a woman’s life as well as protecting her physical health are the criteria for having an abortion in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Costa Rica, the Bahamas and Grenada, according to reproductive rights advocacy groups.

The outbreak has prompted calls to loosen these countries’ restrictive abortion laws. Recently, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called for “laws and policies that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services” to be repealed as an effective response to the Zika health emergency.

Even Pope Francis suggested to reporters during a recent visit to Mexico that artificial contraception might be permissible in the fight against Zika. But he described abortion as “a crime” and an “absolute evil.”


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