Latin America (MNN) — Last week, the World Health Organization declared the rise in birth defects linked to the Zika virus outbreak a public health emergency.
Some countries affected by the outbreak have warned women not have children for the next two years.
Brazil has been one of the hardest hit countries. Melissa Heiland, president of Beautiful Feet International explains, “Abortion is illegal in Brazil, as it is in most Latin American countries. It’s illegal, except in the case of the mother’s life or anencephaly (which is nearly always fatal) [baby is developing without a brain].” For example, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua don’t allow abortion under any circumstances. Brazil, Venezuela, and Guatemala are highly restrictive, meaning they only allow it if the mother’s life is in grave danger. Many of these areas are also predominantly Roman Catholic, and there are strict sanctity of life expectations.
Up to 650,000 Zika infections are expected in the coming months. The virus is suspected of causing babies to be born with a condition called microcephaly, which results in unusually small heads and brains. While most do not develop significant symptoms, some of the children who do develop microcephaly could grow up with minimal delays and intellectual impairment, while others could be in a vegetative state.
Epidemiologists have raised the possibility that there could be an explosion of microcephaly cases in the next few months.
Scientists say it’s not always possible to tell how severe the impact of the deformity will be early on. Yet, even though scientists have not yet found a definitive link between Zika and the deformities, doctors are making the connection circumstantially. Heiland adds, “There are some abortion activists that are calling for the laws to be changed in Brazil so that women that contract the Zika virus are allowed to abort their babies.” The panic among pregnant mothers is touching off a heated abortion debate. Poor women are by far the most affected. No one doubts that the situation is frightening, she says. “If you are a pregnant woman in Brazil, certainly you are going to have some level of anxiety, it will reveal that peace only comes through Jesus Christ.”
The good news: National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) believes they could have a Zika vaccine ready by the end of this year. A DNA-based vaccine and a live vaccine option have already been tested and are showing promising results.
In the meantime, Heiland says they’re taking as much preventative action as they can. First, she explains, “We have not seen this in any of our centers. Our centers are in West Africa, and then Costa Rica and Mexico.” She notes, “They’ve just had their first recorded case of the Zika virus last week in Costa Rica. We have not seen it in any of our clients.”
Their volunteers are taking preventative measures as much as possible. ”They are trying to combat that with a message to our girls about being careful, about staying covered up, about mosquito repellent.” A doctor who works with Beautiful Feet is working on an information piece that explains more in detail. The main issue that’s being overlooked is the sanctity of human life. Despite the threat of a birth defect, Heiland says the value of a life is not connected to what you can or can’t do. “Every person, every life, no matter how short or how long, has value and purpose without exception.” Abortion, by nature, is an end to something living. It has impact. “When they make that choice, it’s going to hurt not only the child, but also the mom, as well.”
Pregnancy center ministry allows Beautiful Feet volunteers to meet the deepest spiritual needs of the women who come to them, as well as their earthly needs. Given the pressures surrounding the Zika virus outbreak, Heiland asks you to ”pray for protection for these women in Brazil and Latin America and Central America and throughout the world–protection for the women and for their babies–and that they would come to Christ for an answer.”
Would you pray that as these women go to the pregnancy centers, they would say, “I’m afraid. What can I do?” In a time of fear, pray that the Beautiful Feet volunteer response will be the grace to do. “We want to teach them about Jesus so that they can know and raise their children to love the Lord.”