Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 3rd 2016 Contents A26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, February 3, 2016
There is a joke circulating in San Salvador these
days: "Instead of using a condom, use a mosquito
net! That should at least keep the mosquitoes
from biting your privates."
The joke is a dig at the unusual suggestion made
by the governments of El Salvador and various
other Latin American countries. Brazil, Colombia
and Ecuador (as well as Jamaica) have advised that
women hold off on getting pregnant. El Salvador
went as far as to urge women to hold back on having
children until 2018.
The suggestion, which might be unprecedented
in human history, is in response to the outbreak of
Zika, a mosquito-borne virus associated with serious
brain damage in newborns. The virus came to the
Americas in 2015, hitting Brazil first, and has so
far spread to more than 20 countries in the Amer-
Reproductive rights activists are outraged that
the Salvadoran government would make this rec-
ommendation in country where women have no
legal options to terminate a pregnancy if they are
concerned about birth defects. That s because the
law recognises a foetus as a human being from the
moment of conception.
At Ilopango prison for women, there are 17
inmates who said they had miscarriages but were
accused by the courts of having abortions. They
were sentenced for up to 40 years for aggravated
Salvadoran law "criminalises abortion on all
grounds, including when the mother s life or health
is in danger, and in cases of rape," wrote Erika Gue-
vara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty Inter-
national, in a New York Times op-ed. "Women
and girls cannot access an abortion even if con-
tinuing their pregnancy will kill them, or if their
foetuses are not viable."
It s a position not limited to El Salvador. The
Honduran supreme court prohibits abortion and
the morning-after pill. Guatemalan law allows abor-
tions only if the mother s health is at risk but not
in case of rape.
The matter is raised every so often in Salvadoran
media. But Zika might be a watershed moment in
how reproductive rights are perceived in the coun-
try---and the entire region.
It would not be the first time a viral epidemic
changes a society s feelings on abortion. In the
1960s, abortion was illegal in the United States.
But an outbreak of rubella (commonly known as
German measles or three-day measles) brought the
issue of abortion up for public debate. As a result
of the national conversations, more Americans
came to empathise with those mothers who had
an illicit abortion. That was nearly a decade before
Roe versus Wade ushered in the era of legal abor-
Rubella was linked to congenital rubella syndrome
in foetuses, which causes deafness, sight problems,
heart problems and microcephaly, to name a few
medical issues. The severity of the effects of rubella
virus on the foetus depends largely on the time
when the foetus is infected: Eighty-five per cent
of foetuses infected in the first trimester of preg-
nancy were likely to be affected.
Between 1964 and 1965, there were an estimated
12.5 million rubella cases in the US, resulting in
2,000 newborn deaths and 20,000 babies with
congenital rubella syndrome.
In 1967, the Therapeutic Abortion Act made Cal-
ifornia one of the first states to legalise abortion.
The procedure could only be performed in a hospital
after a committee had determined that the preg-
nancy would put a woman s health at risk. Several
years later, the rubella vaccine was created. In 1973,
Roe versus Wade legalised abortion in the US.
Salvadoran abortion rights activist Ángela Rivas
warns that Zika will lead to "more clandestine
abortions and a higher number of women being
sent to jail." Rivas think now is the moment to talk:
"Once more we must debate the issue of decrim-
inalising abortion," she urges. Many others disagree,
but it seems as if there will be a reckoning.
If it happens, it could be because of a mosquito.
to the public
risk of a
News and Advice
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
Zika not first to spark
a debate about abortion
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