PAHO on Zika: abortion is a right – and “a moral obligation”.

By Marianna Orlandi, Ph.D. | September 29, 2016

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO) “access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare” means that women have a right to “safe termination of pregnancy” regardless of national laws.

At a recent panel titled “A rights-based approach to Zika,” hosted at the House of Sweden, in Washington, DC, the Bioethics Regional Advisor of PAHO, Carla Saenz, presented the Ethics Guidance that her office formulated last April, on the key issues raised by the outbreak of the virus. Given that the main sponsors of the event were International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF), the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and the House of Sweden, it is unsurprising that they concluded that abortion is a fundamental right.  But it is at the very least puzzling to read that a non-partisan, public-health oriented, supranational body such as PAHO lists access to abortion among the “ethical duties” towards women during the Zika virus outbreak.

The four ethical duties mentioned in the guide are: “Provision of Information;” “Respect for the right to choose;” “Access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare;” and “Social Support.” The second and the third points state:

“It is crucial to secure women’s moral right to choose about their reproductive options during the Zika virus outbreak. Women should be provided with the opportunity to choose from all relevant options including contraception, termination of pregnancy and carrying to term a potentially affected pregnancy” (emphasis added).

The moral obligation to provide women with reproductive information and choices implies that health authorities have a duty to ensure their access to all reproductive options during the outbreak and, for each option, to provide related support and care (…). Comprehensive sexual and reproductive care encompasses family planning, maternal health, pre-natal testing, safe termination of pregnancy, counseling, and post-natal care services” (emphasis added).

From a legal perspective, I waited, in vain, for somebody to tell PAHO’s Advisor that abortion (“safe termination of pregnancy”) is illegal in many Latin American states. In vain, I waited for somebody to remind her, as well as all the other speakers, that abortion has never been declared nor recognized as a fundamental right of women. From a moral perspective, when I heard that allowing for the killing of the unborn is a “moral obligation” I was simply shocked.

Along with the presentation of PAHO’s guidelines (which are not binding, but which do exert a strong pressure on governments – as does anything that gets published by the supposedly super-partes WHO), the recent event on Zika was one of the best performances ever offered by the DC-based abortion advocacy.

The Ambassador of Sweden to the United States, Mr. Bjorn Lyrvall, introduced the event by mentioning the all-too-common numbers of “unmet need for contraception”, “unintended pregnancies,” “preventable maternal deaths,” and “unsafe abortions,” which C-Fam already, and repeatedly proved to be, at the very least, inaccurate. He then spoke of “control over our bodies” as a human right, still limited by “discriminatory laws.”  And he invoked comprehensive sexuality education for all the youth.

It was then the turn of Debora Diniz, founder of Anis, a bioethics institute in Brazil. Besides sponsoring her recent publication on Zika, she held that the problem with this epidemic is mainly the fact that women are not yet granted access to emergency contraception and abortion. She mentioned high numbers of people diagnosed with the virus, but she failed to report how many newborn babies were reported as exhibiting microcephaly or other problems related to the virus. She did say, however, that abortion shall not be granted as a response to the possible unhealthy conditions of the baby, … but “to protect the mental health of women.”

Zika – she continued – “is not a public health emergency, but a human rights’ crisis”. Agreed: the child’s right to life seems to have gone completely forgotten.

More bad news came right after, when the President of CHANGE, Serra Sippel, announced – with a great smile – that the US Congress finally promised, yesterday night, to provide Zika funding: $1.1 Billion taxpayers’ money. By her smile, this huge amount of cash will not be spent on mosquito repellent. Even though one may hope that the still-in-force Helms Amendment will prevent the funding of abortion providers, CHANGE’s main goal is precisely to have it repealed, or, at least, reinterpreted.

Other troubling assertions came from Esther Vicente, of Profamilia Puerto Rico and President of IPPF for the Western Hemisphere Region, as well as from Oscar Cabrera, Executive Director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. The first one held that, in light of Puerto Rico’s tragic economy, only contraception and abortion are viable solutions to the risks that Zika poses on pregnant women and to their children. The second seemed even to suggest that, whenever Zika-infected women choose to have their babies, it is always because they lacked sufficient information. No room for pro-life options.

There was room for wine, after the discussion, and free female condoms were distributed.

After leaving that room, I was aware that the greatest threats to human life and human rights aren’t the bites of mosquitoes, but the well-funded “solutions” to those bites, offered with big smiles.

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