With the spread of Zika virus across the Catholic dominant South and Latin Americas, restrictions on women’s access to contraceptives and abortions has made its way to the forefront of the discussion.
Medical professionals and researchers suspect that the mosquito borne virus is directly responsible for the increased reporting of infants born with microcephaly, a rare neurological condition causing an infant’s head to be significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. While research is still underway to determine if Zika virus actually causes microcephaly, the correlation between the two has prompted warnings from health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Such warnings advise women to avoid travel to countries affected by the virus and, for women presently living in affected countries, to postpone pregnancy.
For women living in the affected countries, heeding the health organizations’ warning is problematic. Of the countries affected by Zika virus, a significant majority of people are Catholic. The Catholic Church prohibits the use of birth control and abortion. Furthermore, many of the countries affected by Zika virus prohibit abortion except in instances where the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother. Critically, these prohibitions have remained in place, despite the correlation between Zika virus and microcephaly, and both the Catholic Church, and various governments have refused to lessen such restrictions. As a result, women are being faced with an impossible predicament: seeking an illegal and religiously prohibited abortion or giving birth to an infant who may suffer from microcephaly.