The Zika epidemic demonstrates how abortion restrictions are not only sexist and undemocratic, but also fundamentally racist and classist.
In addressing the Zika epidemic, several governments in Latin America made headlines in the past few months when they instructed their female citizens to avoid pregnancy altogether, amounting to what some scholars believe to be historic declarations. In Colombia, women were cautioned to prevent pregnancy for the next six to eight months, while the government of El Salvador — where abortion is illegal — advised women to wait at least two years before trying to conceive. Given the troubling nature of such calls, reflected in the reality that 58 percent of reported pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean are unintended, and the fact that some of these countries have among the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, the issue of reproductive justice must be placed at the center of this emerging conversation.

According to Loretta J. Ross, the co-founder and National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, reproductive justice is “about three interconnected sets of human rights: (1) the right to have children, (2) the right not to have children, and (3) the right to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.”

RELATED: Latin America’s Safe Abortion Hotlines: Reproductive Rights 911

Race and class ultimately shape the fulfillment of these three interconnected human rights. In the case of Zika, poor, rural women are the most affected by the virus, so much so that the Colombian human rights activist Mónica Roa of the women’s rights organization Women’s Link Worldwide reported that she heard someone call Zika “the mosquito of the poor.” Poorer women and women living in the countryside do not readily have as much access to contraceptives, while the more expensive emergency contraceptives are altogether banned in some countries like Honduras. Meanwhile, the poorest sectors of Latin America cannot afford air-conditioned housing like their wealthier counterparts and often live near areas with standing water that functions as breeding grounds for the mosquitos.


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