Zika Virus, Public Health, Reproductive Rights

12 February 2016

WHO predicts up to four million cases of the mosquito-borne Zika infection this year.


When a country without abortion tells women not to get pregnant

from Joshua A Krisch, Vocativ, 26 January 2016

“We’d like to suggest to all the women of fertile age that they take steps to plan their pregnancies, and avoid getting pregnant between this year and next,” El Salvador’s Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza told Reuters.

Here’s the problem: Abortions are illegal in El Salvador, and birth control is hard to come by. The irony, which seems lost on El Salvador, is that the same government that denies women control over their reproductive health is now asking those same women to control their reproductive health until 2018.

Tags: El Salvador, Zika virus, pregnancy


The Center for Reproductive Rights has put together a petition calling on El Salvador to protect reproductive rights and lift the total abortion ban in the face of the Zika virus public health emergency.

The petition is in English/Spanish at:
English petition:

Spanish petition:

They have also developed sample Facebook and Twitter posts that can be used. You can find those at their Facebook /reproductiverights and Twitter @ReproRights pages and on the Campaign’s Facebook /safeabortionwomensright and Twitter @safe_abortion pages too.


A public health and rights perspective from Brazil

from Mario Osava, InterPress Service, 8 February 2016

Those opposed to making abortion legal, led by religious groups, argue that it violates the most basic of human rights, the right to life. They even protested the decriminalisation of abortion in cases of anencephalic fetuses, arguing that life begins at conception. In their campaign over the social networks, they are now arguing that abortion of microcephalic fetuses amounts to “eugenics” or selective breeding, and compare those who defend the right to abortion in these cases to Nazis.

But Débora Diniz, a researcher at the Anis Bioethics Institute and the University of Brasilia, has argued in interviews and opinion pieces that eugenics occurs when the state intervenes in decision-making in an authoritarian manner, exercising control over women’s pregnancies, and not when the idea is for women to be free to make their own family planning decisions…

…[Another] leading national voice on bioethics, Volnei Garrafa, University of Brasilia Unesco Cathedra of Bioethics, said that the government wants to hold society responsible for fighting the mosquito, without assuming its own responsibility for the lack of adequate sanitation and the “garbage and stagnant water everywhere” which generate perfect breeding grounds for the mosquito.

C:\Users\marge\ownCloud\Campaign Team Folder\Logos & Images\Newsletters 2016\Newsletter images Feb 2016\Brazil Zika article NL 12 Feb 2016.jpg
The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit
hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of
sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and
water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito,
which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever
and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Garrafa said that with the current composition of the national Congress, where evangelical and Catholic groups have a strong influence, the approval of measures moving - even gradually - in the direction of the legalisation of abortion is nearly impossible…
Proposals in the Congress, rather than being aimed at easing abortion law, seek to restrict the right to legal abortion in cases of rape, creating humiliating requirements for the victims that make it practically impossible for them to obtain an abortion.

“The Supreme Court has been forced to fill the legislative vacuum, at the risk of eroding democracy through the mixing up of the branches of the state, with the judiciary legislating instead of parliament,” said Garrafa.

Tags: Brazil, public health, bioethics


Zika and abortion rights: Brazil in the eye of the storm

Sonia Corrêa, Sexuality Policy Watch, January 2016
…Zika has skyrocketed since 2014, given that Brazil had 1.5 million cases of dengue fever last year, [linked to the same mosquito].

In fact, the new Minister of Health was honest enough to declare, on January 22nd (2016), that Brazil was “losing the battle against the mosquito”. Additionally, when the microcephaly crisis became evident in October 2015, thousands of babies had already been potentially disabled by the Zika virus, a striking indication that systems of early detection of maternal health crises are not working effectively in Brazil…

A bit earlier, he also declared that it would be better if women got infected by Zika before their “fertile period”, so as to gain immunity against the virus, because a vaccine for the virus is not going to be immediately developed. A spiral of criticism followed these declarations...

He then announced [the Ministry of Health] would launch a national campaign to expand the use of (long-term) contraceptive implants amongst teenagers. Although it is not clear if there is a direct correlation between the two events, both have clearly reflected ideologies and policies aimed at controlling women’s sexual and reproductive behavior. In her sharp comments about the institutional response to the Zika crisis, feminist anthropologist Débora Diniz insightfully underlined this glaring bias:

“This is a perspective of birth control from 1950’s: it is a policy bypass typical of a country that has not been able to develop a serious discussion about women’s rights and reproductive rights”.

Claudia Colucci, in the paper Folha de São Paulo (10 January 2016), reported on experts’ views regarding whether microcephaly would or would not be justifiable cause for abortion. Many of the experts polled declared that microcephaly can be very severe in some cases, and that abortion should be granted in these…

Brazilian abortion politics is definitely being transformed by the Zika crisis. If it is possible to reactivate the energies that were aroused against PL 5069 [restrictions on abortion following rape] and connect these with the lively debate on Zika and abortion, the conditions presiding over the re-opening of Congressional discussions regarding PL5069 in February 2016 may be altered…

While these glaring and intense dynamics are at play in the media and society at large, the public response of Brazil's public executive authorities has been either appalling or almost non-existent. The Minister of Health has issued a specific technical guideline for Zika but at the ground level, women cannot get proper information, and the public health system does not seem to have the capacity to respond to the crisis as would be required. The Federal Government announced it will provide a “family grant” (Bolsa Família) for the mothers of babies born with microcephaly. This policy measure (although long overdue) is certainly to be applauded, but it is entirely insufficient…

C:\Users\marge\ownCloud\Campaign Team Folder\Logos & Images\Newsletters 2016\Newsletter images Feb 2016\Brazil Zika virus ANIS website NL 3 Feb 2016.jpg

Minister: “The best strategy to control Zika is for women to get infected before reaching
fertile age so they are immune.” From:

Tags: Brazil, Zika virus, maternal health care, abortion rights


The first reported legal abortion in Colombia due to Zika

Report by Juliette Ortiz, Orientame,Colombia

On 4 February 2016, Colombia’s media published what was called: “The first (legal) abortion due to Zika” ( The woman who asked for the termination of pregnancy was a 25-year-old inhabitant of Cartagena. She was 32 weeks pregnant, and had asked for an abortion on legal grounds, but medical doctors in Cartagena refused, claiming conscientious objection. She had to travel to Bogotá to receive abortion care in a private clinic.

This woman probably became infected with the Zika virus in August 2015, and was found to have dengue fever at the time… Not much was known about Zika at that time in Cartagena. Little else is known about this woman’s situation, but what can be inferred is that she is one of the few women who was able to learn that the fetus was malformed, to decide whether to continue or terminate the pregnancy, and actually receive a legal and safe procedure. Moreover, not only was she able to face the stigma but was also empowered to pursue her right to have an abortion. Not many women in Latin America are prepared for this, especially those who are affected by poverty and - at the moment - by Zika.

Tags: Colombia, Zika virus, legal abortion


Zika: a perfect storm of climate change, disease and SRHR: Climate change accelerating spread of disease

ARROW SRHR Issues/Resources No.1, February 2016

A 2009 briefing paper by Oxfam posited “the effects of climate change on health will reach wider and faster across the world than any other fall-out from climate change.” The paper discussed the increase in water-borne, insect-borne, vector-borne diseases due to increases in temperature and rain, and the inability of health and municipal services to be able to plan and manage those changes. In Asia-Pacific, we see the year-on-year rapid increase in dengue, in particular in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Dengue, malaria, and now Zika are all examples of how mosquito-borne diseases are interlinked with effects of climate change such as rising temperatures and shifts in precipitation. Scientists say that long-term climate change will make it increasingly difficult to protect human beings from such diseases and the rapid spread of Zika over a few months is quite telling of this…

For an example, the government of El Salvador has advised women not to get pregnant until 2018, advice that has since been meted out by government officials in Colombia and Ecuador. This advice, challenged by women’s organisations and not endorsed by organisations such as the WHO, fails to recognise the reality of the region, where access to contraception is limited, abortion is highly criminalised, and pregnancies often occur as a result of sexual violence. A 2014 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 56% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean are unintended… showing that women already have little control over their bodies and pregnancies.

While the governments in Latin America are saying that this advice is a secondary strategy to combat the virus, it remains an unprecedented, sweeping request, apart from being impossible to achieve…

Tags: Asia, Zika virus, climate change, disease


Upholding women’s human rights essential to Zika response: Zeid

5 February 2016  

Upholding women’s human rights is essential if the response to the Zika health emergency is to be effective, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Friday, adding that laws and policies that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services in contravention of international standards, must be repealed and concrete steps must be taken so that women have the information, support and services they require to exercise their rights to determine whether and when they become pregnant…

“In Zika-affected countries that have restrictive laws governing women’s reproductive rights, the situation facing women and girls is particularly stark on a number of levels,” the UN Human Rights Chief said.  “In situations where sexual violence is rampant, and sexual and reproductive health services are criminalized, or simply unavailable, efforts to halt this crisis will not be enhanced by placing the focus on advising women and girls not to become pregnant. Many of the key issues revolve around men’s failure to uphold the rights of women and girls, and a range of strong measures need to be taken to tackle these underlying problems.”

“Upholding human rights is essential to an effective public health response and this requires that governments ensure women, men and adolescents have access to comprehensive and affordable quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, without discrimination,” Zeid said, noting that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services include contraception - including emergency contraception - maternal health care and safe abortion services to the full extent of the law.

“Health services must be delivered in a way that ensures a woman’s fully informed consent, respects her dignity, guarantees her privacy, and is responsive to her needs and perspectives,” he added. “Laws and policies that restrict her access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations in order to ensure the right to health for all in practice. Drawing on lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, another crucial element of the response should be the systematic dissemination of accurate information on how Zika spreads, how to prevent it and its health consequences.”

Tags: Zika virus, human rights


Pope Francis: Act now and respect the consciences and reproductive rights of women

10 February 2016

In advance of the papal visit to Mexico, Catholics for Choice delivered an urgent message to Pope Francis about the Zika epidemic in the International New York Times as part of a campaign asking him to do the right thing for Latin American women. An advertisement will also appear in El Diario de Hoy in El Salvador during his visit, co-signed by Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir El Salvador. Invoking the parable of the Good Samaritan, the open letter asks Francis to show truly pastoral leadership. 

“When you travel tomorrow to Latin America, we ask you, Francis, to make it clear to your brother bishops that good Catholics can follow their conscience and use birth control to protect themselves and their partners. Make it clear to the Catholic hierarchy that women’s decisions around pregnancy, including the decision to end a pregnancy, need to be respected, not condemned.”

“Pope Francis has an opportunity to reverse a longstanding injustice on this trip,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “If he wants a church that lifts up the poor, he must remove the birth control ban that falls so harshly on the women of Mexico and Central and South America, and allow women to make a decision about their pregnancies.”

The same ad was rejected by La Prensa, a Nicaraguan newspaper, because it expressed the truth about abortion in the country. “There is a failure to face the reality that woman in Nicaragua do have abortions and need comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Women suffer because abortion is illegal in this country and the government-sanctioned media won’t allow us to even mention the word, let alone discuss the harm that these restrictions cause women,” said Bertha Massiel Sánchez Miranda of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir Nicaragua.

The Zika epidemic has spread to more than 25 countries in Pope Francis’ home region of Latin America and the Caribbean, where the Catholic hierarchy’s prohibition on abortion and modern methods of contraception has significant political influence. In the region, 97% of women of childbearing age live under a highly restrictive abortion law, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

A global poll of Catholics conducted by Univision in 2014 found that 78% supported modern birth control, as did 91% of Catholics in Latin America.

O’Brien said, “What the Catholic faithful recognize is that abortion, like contraception, is part of the continuum of women’s health care. The Zika virus is highlighting an issue that was already critical. Now is the time for Francis to show the compassion he preaches and use his trip to Mexico to be a pastoral, not political, pope.”

Tags: Zika Virus, religion, fertility regulation


Women on Web offer free medical abortion pills for pregnant women with Zika

1 February 2016

Women on Web have offered to provide free medical abortions to pregnant women with Zika who are unable to obtain a safe abortion in their country. Women on Web is an online abortion service. Women who are less than 9 weeks pregnant can do an online consultation with them, which is reviewed by doctors for confirmation. Women need to send Women on Web a copy of the laboratory result indicating they have Zika infection, and they will send a package containing medical abortion pills through the post free.

Tags: Zika virus, medical abortion pills
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