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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Zika virus could help women gain reproductive rights

Somehow, even during the Zika virus outbreak, women are once again given the short end of the stick.

With the Zika virus name instilling fear to Latin America, government officials in nations such as El Salvador and Venezuela have responded to the crisis with a simple request to their citizens: Make sure women do not become pregnant.

This plan, however, is ineffective and overly simple. These countries restrict access to contraceptives, lack sex education and ban abortions. Without the necessary means of preventing pregnancy, this plan—without openly stating it—tells citizens to refrain entirely from having sex for a couple of years while the world tries to control the Zika threat.

If we were to apply this crisis plan to a smaller scale, it would look exactly like what’s happening in Texas, Mississippi and other states in the South that share a sense of religious conservatism with the Latin American nations.

These southern states either do not require sexual education and choose to ignore the matter altogether, or they employ abstinence-only sexual education, which says the best way to avoid pregnancy and the other risks of sex is to not partake in it.

This method has been criticized for leaving serious gaps in the education of students, which is reflected by the fact that some of these states have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Texas is third in the nation, while Mississippi is number one.

Unfortunately, if these governments actually believe that their plans could work, not only would they be disappointed in learning that abstinence-only education doesn’t work, they would have to face the consequences of the continuing spread of the Zika virus and the pregnancy defects that it causes.

The threat of the Zika virus and the naive solutions offered by Latin American governments show the need for a re-examination of reproductive rights and health care in affected nations.

While Pope Francis recently conceded that a viable option for these predominantly Catholic nations to combat the virus is to allow the use of contraceptives, this doesn’t go far enough into the issue at hand. Pregnant women who have contracted Zika virus are being forced to continue their pregnancies, even with the knowledge that their children are at risk of being born with microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a condition which results in a shrunken head, mental and motor developmental delays, hearing and vision problems and seizures, if the infant even survives.

The fear of having a child with microcephaly has caused a panic in women and expecting mothers who feel ensnared and helpless because of their nations’ anti-abortion laws. Many have taken to the Internet to beg for assistance.

Women on Web, an Internet group that aims to aid women in need of abortions who reside in countries where the procedure is illegal, has fielded thousands of emails from Latin American women who are currently desperately seeking abortion pills.

This desperation brings up the concern that women will resort to unsafe measures in order to end their pregnancies.

Making abortion illegal not only results in women’s being forced to commit a so-called crime, it also endangers women who may attempt to take control of their bodies and opt for a coat-hanger abortion or other potentially life-threatening procedures.

With the panic caused by the spread of Zika, these cases are likely to increase.

The United Nations recently declared abortion to be a human right after examining the case of a Peruvian teenager who was refused an abortion for a child that was predicted to be born with fatal birth defects in 2001.

The birth defects would risk the teen’s life as well as her child’s. The parallels between the 2001 case and the current ordeal in Latin America reveal the need for Latin American nations to legalize abortion and expand reproductive rights.

The Zika virus has given a new platform for reproductive rights to stand on, as the legalization of abortion would aid in the reduction of the spread of the virus and cases of microcephaly.

While Latin American nations have yet to take any definitive steps in the matter, the silver lining in the Zika outbreak is the possibility of globally expanding women’s reproductive rights.

Follow Maddie Birr on Twitter.

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