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Brazil Attorney General's Latest Zika Comments Highlight A Woman's Right To Choose

by Rupali Srivastava

With Zika spreading faster and further, and new research showing more and more effects of the virus, many pregnant women are wondering what choices they have when it comes to their pregnancies. Now, as far as Brazil is concerned, it seems many of those women may have an additional choices. The Attorney General of Brazil, the country with the highest number of Zika cases in the world, has asked the country's Supreme Court to allow abortions for pregnant women infected with Zika in Brazil , according to the Wall Street Journal.

Brazil's current abortion laws are very restrictive, exacerbating the challenges created by Zika. A woman found guilty of abortion can be punished with up to three years in jail, and there are hardly any exceptions to the law, according to the New York Times.

The debate on whether to allow exceptions for those infected with Zika has been ongoing. Faced with a push to loosen abortion laws in February, lawmakers in Brazil actually moved in the opposite direction and proposed legislation that would increase the jail time for women and doctors involved in abortions, according to ThinkProgress. These conservative lawmakers, together with Catholic leaders, have maintained that the presence of the Zika virus and potential birth defects do not affect the baby's right to life. However, research has shown that Zika is a "serious neurological threat" and is linked to microcephaly, auto-immune disorder Guillain-Barre, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, according to the Atlantic.

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But those supporting a woman's right to choose have different reasoning. United Nations officials and activists across the world have said that an increase in Zika infections among pregnant women will lead to an increase in unsafe, clandestine abortions, according to the Chicago Tribune. Because of the numerous possible birth defects linked to the Zika virus, human rights officials in the United Nations have said that the consequence of not allowing abortions for infected women would be dangerous.

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot agrees. In his proposal to the court, Janot wrote that forcing women to continue a pregnancy after learning that they've been infected with Zika would violate their reproductive autonomy and subject them to "emotional and psychological torture." Janot has also suggested that at-risk women be given free contraceptives and mosquito repellent.

It's unclear right now how quickly the court will respond to Janot's request, or if legal and government officials will support the renewed push for less restrictive laws after being divided for months, according to The Guardian. Regardless, it's great that the matter is getting attention from a high-level official like Janot. And hopefully, more officials in Brazil will consider giving women the right to choose after hearing what Janot had to say. More than anything, women deserve to have the opportunity to make a choice about their bodies and their futures.