Zika and Brazil’s Abortion Laws
For the past few months the Zika virus has been in the news. What is the Zika virus? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the virus was first identified in 1947 and is transmitted through mosquitoes. While not fatal, Zika can cause fevers, rash, pain in the joints, and conjunctivitis.
The virus has the most impact on pregnant women as it can cause developmental issues and microcephaly (abnormally small head) in a fetus. Zika has hit certain areas of the world particularly hard, including Brazil. The country went from 150 documented cases per year to potentially thousands being affected. As a result of the stark increase in cases, Brazil is now considering revising its anti-abortion laws to allow women to terminate their pregnancies if they know that their fetus has microcephaly.
Brazil has strict abortion laws, which only permit abortion when it would save the mother’s life, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape. Changing Brazil’s laws to incorporate women whose fetuses have microcephaly would be a significant step towards more abortion access in the state. At the same time it is important to think about the message that, that sends – if the fetus (often considered the most important actor) could be harmed then women can terminate their pregnancies. Yet again, it’s not about the woman, but about the fetus.
As social workers we are thought to think critically about self-determination and social justice. However, in areas with restrictive reproductive health policies, individual rights are neglected. As we think about the Zika virus and the impact it has on women in Brazil, we should also consider why so often women have no say in their reproductive health. It is unfortunate that in order for women to get access to abortion, they must play the state’s game – focus on the impact on the fetus in the hopes that eventually their voices will be heard.
You can learn more about the Zika virus and pregnancy on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website.
Anita R. Gooding, LSW
SWRJ Advisory Board Member
Women and Alcohol Don’t Mix
Written by Anita R. Gooding, LSW SWRJ Advisory Board Member
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told women that they should not drink alcohol unless they are on birth control. Their report sent waves across the Internet – and it wasn’t the Kanye West kind.
In their report the CDC said that more than 3 million women might expose their fetus to alcohol, primarily if they don’t know they are pregnant. Clearly this is an area of concern and the high rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) should be addressed. Yet the CDC’s attempt at a public service announcement came across as condescending, sex-negative, and just plain offensive. At no point in the press release did the CDC talk about the effects of alcohol on males and their fertility (you know, semen, traditionally the other half of this equation). Furthermore, the infographic noted that the risks of drinking for women include injury/violence and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – as if violence against women and STIs fall solely on the shoulder of women-folk.
Here are some things the CDC should consider the next time they want to police women’s bodies –
- Not all women want children so the assumption shouldn’t be that women are trying to get pregnant every time they have a drink.
- What about Gay and Bi women? Genderqueer and Trans women/men? How does the focus on birth control and alcohol tie in with their needs?
- Some women’s bodies react negatively to hormonal birth control making birth control something all sexual partners should think about. Therefore in heterosexual interactions, male partners should always be a part of the birth control process.
- Don’t assume that because someone had a few drinks in the early part of the pregnancy they are a bad person and should be shamed. Most women who get pregnant cease drinking if they want to carry the fetus to term. Only 1 in 10 women in the CDC’s report had alcohol in the past 30 days. That means 90% did not.
- Use this report to also talk about overall reproductive health in this country. Pregnancy is only one component. There are over 20 million new cases of STIs every year.
You can contact the CDC directly with your additional thoughts on how they can address FASD while supporting women.