The United Nations high commission for human rights has on Friday urged Latin American countries hit by the dangerous Zika virus epidemic to let women have access to contraception and abortion, re-igniting debates about reproductive rights in the predominantly conservative Catholic regions, which have very restrictive abortion and contraceptive laws.
UN spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly stated; “We are asking those governments to go back and change those laws,”
“How can they ask these women not to become pregnant, but not offer the possibility to stop their pregnancies if they wish?”
US-based NGO the Center for Reproductive Rights welcomed the commissioner’s initiative. Charles Abbott, the group’s legal adviser for Latin America & the Caribbean said;
“Women cannot solely bear the burden of curbing the Zika virus.”
“We agree with the OHCHR that these governments must fulfil their international human rights obligations and cannot shirk that responsibility or pass it off to women. This includes adopting laws and policies to respect and protect women’s reproductive rights.”
Also, UN human rights chief UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said this warning meant little in countries that ban or heavily restrict access to reproductive health services like contraception and abortion.
“The advice of some governments to women to delay getting pregnant ignores the reality that many women and girls simply cannot exercise control over whether or when or under what circumstances they become pregnant, especially in an environment where sexual violence is so common.”
“In situations where sexual violence is rampant, and sexual and reproductive health services are criminalised, or simply unavailable, efforts to halt this crisis will not be enhanced by placing the focus on advising women and girls not to become pregnant,” he said.
Instead, he insisted that governments must “ensure women, men and adolescents have access to comprehensive and affordable quality sexual and reproductive health services.”
Health authorities in at least five affected countries have advised women to avoid getting pregnant, with Colombia calling on women to delay pregnancy for six to eight months, and El-Savador , suggesting women avoid getting pregnant for at least two years.
Reproductive rights advocates say the recommendations to avoid pregnancy are irresponsible and do not take into account that most pregnancies in the region are unplanned.