Does Increase in Zika Rates Lead to Increased Abortions in Latin America?

By NIAID (Male Aedes Aegypti Mosquito) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Women who are pregnant in Latin American countries were more likely to seek an abortion after receiving alarming health information about the Zika virus. These findings highlight the need for Latin American women to have safe and legal options to reproductive health, particularly as Zika continues spreading at frightening rates.

The Study

The information the most recent Zika study was obtained through a study by Princeton University researchers and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The team analyzed information from women on the internet via an online portal that pairs up patients with physicians able to prescribe abortion medications. It was discovered that many women in Latin America used the site to report the Zika virus as their main reason for seeking abortion services. Because abortions are illegal or highly restricted across Latin America, many pregnant women were forced to seek alternatives such as “Women on the Web”, which serves women who are less than 10 weeks pregnant and have no severe illnesses.

The research team found a particular rise in “Women on the Web” abortion requests coming from countries that issued health advisories about Zika, but also legally restrict access to abortion.

The mosquito-borne virus is associated with a congenital condition that results in microcephaly, which is an abnormally small head. The team defined an “advisory” as a formal warning from the government to avoid pregnancy, a declared national emergency or a caution about the risks of pregnancy from medical professionals.

These risks only highlight further the need for Latin American women to have access to safe abortions, as the virus continues spreading.
Co-author of the study, James Trussell, the Charles and Marie Roberton Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs said, “ZIka will inevitably spread to other countries where safe abortion is restricted.”

He further stated, “Therefore, we must ensure that all reproductive choices are safe, legal and accessible. To do otherwise would be irresponsible public health practice and unjust policy.”
Lead author Abigail Aiken, lead study author, said “A countrywide policy that is impossible to follow if you are pregnant or cannot avoid pregnancy is an usual and important public issue.”

As the Zika virus began to emerge as an epidemic in Latin America, research and media attention quickly focused on the possible effects of Zika on reproduction. However, little attention is paid to how the virus would affect pregnant women specifically.


Aiken said in closing, “We cannot attribute the rapid acceleration in requests in the first group to worries about Zika, but many women reported Zika as their reason for seeking abortions, so there is definitely a strong correlation. Our study provides a window on how Zika has affected the lives of pregnant women in Latin America.”


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