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The Moral Issue Of Allowing Abortion To Help Women Affected By The Zika Virus

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that has affected countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. The first recorded outbreak occurred in 2007 in the Federated States of Micronesia and soon spread to French Polynesia in 2013. By 2015, the virus spread to Brazil and other parts of South America. The common symptoms include fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache which usually lasts between two to seven days; however, the virus has an incubation period of at least three to fourteen days. Although it may be perceived as less impactful than other viral outbreaks such as ebola, the Zika virus (ZIKAV) has a worrisome effect on the fetuses of infected pregnant women. It can cause microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities under the term of Congenital Zika Syndrome (CZS). Microcephaly is considered a rare neurological condition where an infant’s head is smaller than the normal size. These differences may lead to other complications such as underdeveloped brains and other development issues. Today, hundreds of infected pregnant women from Latin America are considering abortion due to these effects on their babies. A moral and legal dilemma is now occurring in the eyes of the Catholic-majority people and governments of South America: should abortion be legalized to help women affected by the ZIKAV and would it be moral to allow it? It is my belief that I propose a hybrid solution where women may be given the option of abortion only when properly scrutinized and recommended by a medical professional and OB-gyne.

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Before I present my arguments on this choice, I would like to address my credibility as an author. A question may appear regarding beliefs: why must we consider the opinion of one who holds a belief which is inconsistent with his actions. I assert that I am a devout Catholic who advocates for pro-life, but some may interrogate this statement due to my opinion mentioned beforehand. I recognize this conflict, but it is also my belief that we must maintain open minds in situations which are out of context of popular and usual issues. I agree that we must hold true to our beliefs, however, I trust John Rawls that we must act to promote equality and justice to maintain democracy and freedom. My first argument revolves around the concept of life-threatening conditions. This is the core foundation of my proposal to allow abortion with intensive scrutiny. Children with microcephaly may have to undergo painful suffering through major phases in life, which may result in the premature death of an infant. Examples of harm done by CZS are: partial collapse of skull (microcephaly), decreased brain tissue, seizures, and hypertonia after birth. Ignoring these early symptoms of possible death within the first year or immediately after birth will be tantamount to ignoring the well-being of both the baby and the mother. Forcing a mother to have to experience the pain of losing a child after birth or after a few years is not fair.

A dilemma regarding this is that most mothers would want the best for their children which means free from troubles and suffering. A question occurs whether or not abortion would be the best interests of the child, because he or she may become disabled or may have to endure pain, possibly, for the entirety of life. My position on this matter is that the legalization of abortion will be a short term solution to easing the stress of mothers, but I would recommend placing more focus on developing cures, treatments, and vaccines for ZIKAV and CZS so that no women or child would have to suffer. My second argument for this proposal is that it limits the opportunity to apply for abortion only when given consent and recommended by a certain amount of medical and health professionals. This is an important aspect because it ensures that abortion will not be abused by women and also doctors. As stated in the first argument, CZS and microcephaly may potentially lead to the death of the infant, however, Dr. David Hager of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council discovered the possibility that the unborn infant of a ZIKAV-infected mother will not contract CZS. Dr. Hager mentioned that not all women and children react to ZIKAV in similar ways. WHO and researchers estimated the incidence rate to be at 1 to 15% of ZIKAV-infected women to have CZS-infected infants. The statistics show that there is a high probability of not contacting CZS, but doctors should, nevertheless, conduct extensive tests to ensure that the infant will be able to live a life free from unbearable suffering and unthreatened by death. What does not constitute recommendation for abortion is intellectual impairment despite arguments that promote it as a form of suffering that may never be cured. I disagree with this assertion, despite my position, because a research conducted by de Carvalho et al., diagnosed a girl with probable CZS and admitted her to various programs to support her mental abilities and health. At 20 months of age, the girl’s mental and physical capabilities were assessed and the results presented her to be normal although the head circumference was still below average. This study, however, cannot completely establish a treatment for CZS in infants, but it provides insight into developing a cure and treatment.

I hold great reservations on my third argument, however, the social, political, and economic aspects of life of pregnant women infected with ZIKAV in Latin America must be considered due to majority of the countries outlawing abortion. As mentioned before, South America is a predominant Catholic continent. Because of this, majority of the people follow the Church’s teachings on abortion which is: to reject abortion because it violates the sacredness of life. The ZIKAV has caused more women to seek abortion even through illegal methods due to the harmful effects it has on unborn fetuses. Undergoing illegal abortion could prove life-threatening to mothers because the practices and procedures done are not regulated or checked by the government and the health department. The most vulnerable in this situation are indigenous women which comprise the majority of the population of South American countries. According to David A. Shwartz, many indigenous women lack access to modern and quality healthcare which has allowed the continuation of “unsafe induced abortions.” The maternal mortality rate was placed at 18% for Ecuador, 16% in Peru, and 28% in Colombia due to this practice. I believe that allowing abortion with intensive scrutiny of a medical professional will persuade infected pregnant women to choose the safe and legal option The economic costs of sustaining a child with CZS are high in a continent where poverty and inequality are widespread. As mentioned in argument 1, there are various effects CZS has on infants, thus many of the symptoms requires complex medical procedures and treatments. The access to quality and modern healthcare and facilities is low, which has resulted in the premature deaths of hundreds of children as well as the deaths of pregnant mothers. Jorge Ramirez also mentioned inequalities within society in Latin America. Many were not educated on health and sex and poverty is limiting many from regular hospital check-ups. Infants with CZS direly need to undergo many tests such as the ones done by de Carvalho, but this will be costly to the family. Abortion should be allowed with intensive scrutiny and recommendation from medical professionals. The need to save the lives of mothers and children infected with ZIKAV should be a priority of the governments. The social, economic, and political situation of mothers should be analyzed as well as current treatments, symptoms, and effects of ZIKAV. I am worried about using abortion as a short-term, band-aid solution, I hope Latin American governments will work towards better education and treatments.

14 May 2021

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