By Adriana Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro.
The Zika virus has triggered a renewed debate about abortion in Brazil.
Activists believe women must be allowed to legally have abortions in cases where the baby is diagnosed with microcephaly, a condition linked to the virus.
Guacira de Oliveira, a sociologist at CFEMEA, a leading feminist organisation in the capital, Brasília, said a spike in abortions was inevitable.
She said the panic unleashed by the potential global epidemic of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been blamed for hundreds of cases of babies born with abnormally small heads and brain damage, will push more Brazilian women into unsafe, illegal abortions.
“The right to a safe abortion must be seen as a matter of public health, now more than ever,” Ms de Oliveira said.
“This is a global emergency and Brazil must stop treating women who want to have abortions as if they were criminals.”
Abortion is considered a crime in Brazil and is only permitted when a pregnancy is the result of a rape, in cases where the expectant mother’s life is at risk or when the fetus is anacephalic. In the last circumstance, part or all of the cerebral hemispheres and the rear of the skull are absent.
Because of the current restrictive legislation, about one million Brazilian women go to clandestine clinics annually to illegally end unwanted pregnancies, often under dangerous conditions and at the hands of charlatans, according to women’s rights groups.
Complications from unsafe abortions are the fifth leading cause of maternal deaths in Brazil, killing almost three women for every 100,000 live births, according to data from Brazil’s Health Ministry.
The National Abortion Survey, a 2010 study by the University of Brasília, found that one in every five Brazilian women had at least one illegal abortion by the time they were 40.
Doctors have now warned that abortion numbers are set to rise as pregnant women who are infected with Zika decide not to take chances.
Conservative parliament making abortion push difficult.
Andrea, an obstetrician from João Pessoa, the capital of Paraiba state in Brazil’s north-eastern region, said three of her patients who had Zika sought advice on how to end the pregnancies in the past two weeks.