Zika virus causes abortion requests to rise in Latin America, study shows

Iris Zamarripa

The Zika virus outbreak has led to a significant increase in abortion requests in Latin America, according to a recent study conducted by assistant professor Abigail Aiken at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Abortion requests were analyzed in 19 Latin American countries through the website Women on Web (WoW), a nonprofit organization that helps women around the world obtain safe abortion medications. Aiken’s research shows abortion requests through WoW increased from 36 percent to 108 percent.

“Our study demonstrates clearly the fear and anxiety that women experience when they are advised by their governments to avoid pregnancy yet have no means of doing so,” Aiken said.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued an epidemiological alert, the goal of which is to control the spread of the virus. As a solution, PAHO has increased access to contraceptives and has tried reducing the amount of infected mosquitos. However, that might not be enough, Aiken said.

“Many women are already pregnant, and not all women will be able to avoid pregnancy, due to both contraceptive failure and inability to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners,” Aiken said. “Thus, not all pregnancies at risk of Zika exposure can or will be prevented.”

Currently, abortion is illegal or highly restricted in the majority of Latin American countries. Therefore, women have been reaching out to organizations such as WoW. Biology pre-med junior and Nicaragua native Belen Davila Lara, explained the social and political view of abortion in Latin America  and Nicaragua.

“Latin America is largely Catholic and the Church rejects abortion,” Lara said. “This influences our policymaking and as a result, abortion is illegal in [some] Latin American countries. In Nicaragua, there is jail time for both the doctor who provides an abortion and the woman who gets one.”

Because contraceptives are prone to failure and resources for safe abortions don’t exist, women in Latin America have limited options, such as self-induced abortions and abortions executed by underground clinics,  Aiken said.

“Women who undergo unsafe procedures are vulnerable to health risks from complications, including infection and bleeding,” Aiken said. “In the most severe cases, these complications can result in death.”

Latin American governments are in a tough position. Their policies are being challenged by women’s fear of the Zika virus. Undeclared sophomore Luis Eduardo Guapo offers a solution.

“My personal view on abortion is to be against it, and it’s because of my beliefs,” Guapo said.  “My public view: I want it to be approved, because my personal views should not be affecting others if something needs to happen.”