National Partnership for Women & Families

Monthly Women's Health Research Review

Letter to the editor: Brazilian women deserve abortion access as right to be free from 'psychological torture' of Zika

Summary of "The protection to women's fundamental rights violated by the Zika virus epidemic," Debora Diniz, American Journal of Public Health, August 2016.

In this letter, Debora Diniz, a law professor at the University of Brasilia and researcher with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, responds to a recent article published in the American Journal of Public Health that discussed "the Brazilian response to the public health consequences of the Zika epidemic."

Diniz critiques the "heroic tone" the article adopts in describing response efforts. She points out that "[a]s the article demonstrates, the epidemic is concentrated among poor women from northeast Brazil, for whom there is no comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care available." She writes that not only does the country's public health system not offer long-acting contraception, but the country also prohibits abortion care. Diniz notes, "there [is] no novelty in the Brazilian social protection to include women and children affected by the epidemic."

Diniz discusses her own role "leading a group who will demand that the Brazilian Supreme Court protect women's fundamental rights violated by the epidemic." She writes, "The right to terminate a pregnancy will be included in our demands, but the ethical reasons for our petition are largely different from the authors' arguments: women have the right to decide to be freed of psychological torture imposed by the epidemic." According to Diniz, "It is not the fetus's future impairments or the 'extreme negative consequences for the families affected' that moves our demand, but the urgency to protect women's rights in the epidemic."

In response to Diniz' letter, the authors of the original article -- Maria Teixeira, with the Instituto de Saud́e Coletiva--Universidade Federal da Bahia, and Laura Rodrigues, with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine -- affirm Diniz' sentiments.

Noting that their article was produced "very early in the epidemic," Teixeira and Rodrigues write, "We would like to thank her for using our article to give context to the very important discussion of legalization of termination of pregnancy in Brazil, and for expanding it to include reproductive rights and social protection to women and children." The authors conclude, "We would like to support the application by the group that is led by Diniz to the Brazilian Supreme Court based on the human rights argument, demanding the right of a woman to be freed of the psychological torture imposed by the epidemic."