Zika outbreak raises fears of rise in deaths from unsafe abortions

Campaigners are calling on Latin American governments to rethink their policies on contraception and abortion because of the spread of Zika virus, which they fear will lead to a rise in women’s deaths from unsafe abortions as well as the predicted surge in brain-damaged babies.

Several governments in the region have advised women to postpone getting pregnant for up to two years, which reproductive health groups say is impossible in countries where birth control is not easily available and many women fall pregnant through sexual violence.

“We are calling for governments to expand access to contraception, particularly for groups that have low incomes,” said Giselle Carino, deputy director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s (IPPF) western hemisphere region.

“Then they must expand access to safe abortion services and we need an awareness campaign so women know about the risk of Zika and are aware of their options if they find themselves pregnant.”

The IPPF says advice from governments including in Colombia, El Salvador and Ecuador to delay becoming pregnant because of the risk of microcephaly – a form of brain damage in the foetus now being associated with Zika virus infection – is unreasonable in a region where around half of all pregnancies are unplanned and sexual assault is prevalent.

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