Pregnant women in Central and South American countries where the Zika virus, a disease that likely causes birth defects in babies and has no cure, has spread, are reportedly seeking abortions at an unprecedented rate.
Women from countries including Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and El Salvador are increasingly reaching out to Women on Web, a Canadian group that helps women seeking abortions in countries where it is banned, for abortion pills, according to the New York Post.
The organization, which has been sending abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol to women around the world since 2005, saw the number of requests from Brazilian women rise from 100 in the first week of December to 285 in the first week of February.
Many of the requests are from women who have contracted the Zika virus and are pregnant, and others are from those who fear that they may become infected at some point during their pregnancy or that don’t trust their doctors’ diagnoses.
“Probably a lot of women are looking for abortion services now,” Women on Web founder Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch doctor, told The Washington Post, cites the New York Post. “Our worry is that these women will turn to unsafe abortion methods, while we can help them with a safe, medical abortion.”
In many of the countries where the Zika virus has spread, abortion is illegal for any reason, while in others -- including Colombia -- it is allowed in cases where the fetus displays symptoms of a severe deformity. For women who cannot obtain abortion pills on the black market or travel outside the country, Women on Web is their last option.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus whose symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Although it is not life-threatening in most people, it has been linked to microcephaly in babies whose mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Microcephaly is a condition where babies are born with smaller heads and brains, and they face issues with development as they grow. So far, there is no known cure for the Zika virus; the World Health Organization declared the most recent outbreak a public health emergency on Feb. 1, reports The Guardian