Zika fears lead to spike in DIY abortions in Latin America

Abortion is still illegal in most of Catholic Latin America and the governments have responded to the Zika virus by suggesting that women not get pregnant. They seem to have the support of the Pope for that approach. As The Guardian reports, “Pope Francis has indicated that women exposed to the Zika virus may be permitted to use contraception to avoid pregnancy, in a departure from Catholic teaching. However he reiterated the church’s staunch opposition to abortion, saying it was a crime and “absolute evil”.

But the reality is that DIY abortions are spiking and interestingly the countries advising women not to get pregnant are seeing the largest increases in abortion. Effectively The Pope’s dispensation on contraception is being taken, it would seem, as a dispensation also for abortion.

BBCFears over the Zika virus have contributed to a “huge” increase in the number of women in Latin America wanting abortions, researchers say. Estimates suggest there has been at least a doubling in requests in Brazil and an increase of a third in other countries. Many governments have advised women not to get pregnant due to the risk of babies being born with tiny brains.

The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A termination remains illegal in many parts of Latin America, but women simply turn to unofficial providers. Women on Web, which advises women online and then delivers pills to end a pregnancy, is one of the largest. The researchers analysed the thousands of requests received by Women on Web in the five years before the Pan American Health Organization issued its warning on Zika on 17 November 2015. It used this to predict how many abortion requests would have been expected between 17 November 2015 and 1 March 2016.

The analysis of countries that advised against getting pregnant suggested Brazil and Ecuador had had more than twice the expected demand for abortions.

Country Expected Actual Increase
Brazil 582 1210 +108%
Colombia 102 141 +39%
Costa Rica 49 67 +36%
El Salvador 18 24 +36%
Ecuador 34 71 +108%
Honduras 21 36 +76%
Venezuela 45 86 +93%

Analysis from other countries, which did not advise against pregnancy, suggested smaller increases in abortion demand.


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