A 24-year-old Brazilian journalist says she is a “fulfilled, happy woman” despite her lifelong struggle with microcephaly, and that she has “taken personally” the promotion of abortions in cases like hers from leftist groups, following the discovery of a link between microcephaly and the pervasive Zika virus.
“When I read a report about the project by the [Brazilian] Supreme Federal Court to allow abortion in microcephaly cases, I took it personally,” Ana Carolina Caceres told the BBC. “I felt attacked and offended.”
Caceres says her parents did not know she would have microcephaly until she was born. They were told “I wouldn’t walk, I wouldn’t talk and, with time, I would enter a vegetative state until I died.” Caceres underwent five operations to protect her brain, one nine days after her birth. “I grew up, went to school, graduated, and went to university,” she says. “Now I am a journalist and write for a blog.” Caceres notes that she sees her role in life as one of “giving a voice” to those with microcephaly, and has written a book about her life and the lives of five other adults who struggle with microcephaly.
Microcephaly is a condition in which an infant’s skull is too small for his or her brain, often crushing or otherwise severely damaging the brain. 85 percent of children with this condition suffer some sort of neurological disability or retardation, and most will suffer convulsions, which Caceres says she now controls with prescription medication. Many children born with microcephaly die young, but experts agree that the possibilities of survival for a child are only fully understood as doctor’s monitor the child’s development.
Medical experts in Brazil have found that a pregnant woman contracting Zika, a virus of African origin spread through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has a much higher rate of producing a child with microcephaly. The Brazilian government has documented more than 4,000 cases of infants born with microcephaly to mothers with Zika in their bloodstream in the past year, as of January 27.
“Those who opt for abortion do not give the child a chance to survive, as happened with me and with many people who work, study, and do normal things… the mothers of these people did not choose abortion, and that is why we exist,” Caceres says.
She compares abortion in cases of Zika contamination to abortion children diagnosed with other severe disabilities. “The right thing would be to invest in treatment and attention for these babies… Do we want to now abort children diagnosed with Down Syndrome or other similar syndromes?” Instead of abortion, Caceres suggests investing in treatment and resources for the parents of children with microcephaly, and advises mothers whose children are affected to seek each other out in their communities or on social media.
Leftist organizations have used the Zika virus, which poses a significantly more minor threat to adults than the unborn, to urge Latin America to legalize abortions. The region is home to some of the world’s strictest laws protecting the right to life, partially due to centuries of Catholic tradition.
Not allowing abortions in Zika cases while governments encourage women to avoid pregnancies – wrote Angélica María Rivas, who works for a Salvadorian group allied with Planned Parenthood this week – creates “a mental health issue for women.” “Governments cannot, on the one hand, discourage pregnancy, while at the same time limiting their commitments to and funding for family planning and access to safe and legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood’s Latin America director Dee Redwine added.
Leftists in Latin American publications have made similar arguments. The pro-abortin NGO Women’s Link Worldwide called warnings against pregnancies in the region “unrealistic” without easy access to abortion. “It is essential to recognize that women and men have the right to make decisions and existential options and one of the most important choices in the life of a woman is to have children or not,” sociologist Jacqueline Pitanguy writes in O Globo.
The push for more abortions appears to be working, as Brazilian officials report an increase in the number of illegal abortions since Zika was first publicized to have a link to microcephaly in December.
At least one Brazilian judge has stated he would grant legal abortions to women testing positive for Zika who can prove with a doctor’s note that experts believe their child would die at birth.
In addition to those who support the right to life, at least one expert believes that legalized abortions may have played a role in how slowly the world has reacted to the threat of the Zika virus. Gubio Soares, the researcher who first identified the presence of Zika in Brazil in April 2015, said in a lecture that, as one of the regions first affected by Zika allows legal abortions, many children who would have been born with microcephaly were aborted, distorting the data regarding the number of microcephaly cases linked to Zika. Only when Zika hit in a nation that does not allow abortions in most circumstances (Brazil), could scientists see a clear pattern between the presence of the virus and the occurrence of microcephaly. “It is necessary to review the number of abortions in French Polynesia,” he said, citing the region in question.