The government of El Salvador has released a suggestion for women to delay becoming pregnant until 2018 due to the outbreak of the Zika virus. El Salvador is one of several countries (including Jamaica, Colombia, and Ecuador) to make such a suggestion but theirs is the most contradictory of them all considering their extremely strict anti-abortion laws and hard-to-access forms of contraception.
Many are questioning the rationale and the practicality of such a request. The goal is to reduce the rate of cases of microcephaly which is believed to occur when women who are pregnant contract the virus. However good the reasoning may be, this has become an issue of women’s and human rights. “Leading women's rights campaigners criticized the recommendations, saying women in the region often have little choice about becoming pregnant.”
In El Salvador, women are vulnerable to a machista society and a lack of sex education. They are often subjected to the whims of their partners, especially in rural areas or in impoverished areas. On average, women from affluent backgrounds have 1.5 children versus the average 5 children of underprivileged women. Women with less than 10 years of education are likely to have twice as many children as those with more than 10 years of education. The country also has one of the highest rates of female sterilization, or tubal ligation, in Latin America solely because it is more readily accessible (typically done after childbirth while still in the hospital or clinic) than contraceptive pills or IUDs. “Over one- third of Salvadoran women aged 15-44 years have undergone the procedure…Use of alternative forms of contraceptive methods is relatively low: 18.3% hormonal injections, 5.8% oral contraceptive pills, and < 3% intrauterine devices (IUDs).”
Salvadoran law forbids abortion, on largely religious grounds, even in instances of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy puts the mother in danger. The catholic country cites that life begins at the moment of conception and that only God has the capacity to end human life. Much of the country backs the anti-abortion legislation.
Due to this legislation, a miscarriage or stillbirth, if believed to be self-imposed, can lead to imprisonment for homicide and up to a 50-year sentence. Even though up to 20 percent of normal pregnancies end in miscarriage, officials in El Salvador “fail to distinguish between miscarriages and abortions,” usually assuming guilt first. Hundreds of women have been legally persecuted for supposed abortions that actually happened of natural causes.
Other arguments against the government’s proposal include that government should not have control over the timing of a woman’s pregnancy, nor the number of children she bears, and that it would be more practical to declare avoidance of mosquitos instead. So with the inability to terminate a pregnancy and difficult-to-access contraception, it is a wonder how Salvadoran women are to follow their government’s advice.
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