Bioethics Blogs

Zika, Ableism, and Reproductive Healthcare

Celeste Orr critiques the ableism underpinning arguments for women’s access to contraception and abortion in response to the Zika virus.


Last week the World Health Organization issued a statement on the Zika virus that commented on the observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations. Infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy can lead to Zika infection in the developing fetus. In turn, this infection in the fetus can result in miscarriage or stillbirth, which can be traumatizing for women and parents. Zika infection during pregnancy also appears to be associated with a number of fetal abnormalities including microcephaly. Children born with microcephaly may have seizures, problems with balance, and serious developmental disabilities. In addition to these disabilities, children with microcephaly have a reduced life expectancy. These children can and do thrive, however, if they have access to resources, such as speech therapy, physical therapy, and medication.

Some have responded to the spread of Zika by advocating for women’s access to contraception and abortion, thereby making Zika a reproductive rights issue. These advocates insist that women’s access to the reproductive healthcare they need and want is imperative for women’s safety and gender equity. As well, some legislators are rethinking strict anti-abortion laws, restricted access to abortion and contraception, and anti-choice, pro-natal statutes and stances. And Pope Francis, departing from Catholic teaching, recently condoned contraception for some women exposed to the virus. Nevertheless, Pope Francis maintains that abortion is an “absolute evil.”

Notably, the argument for women’s access to reproductive healthcare in the context of Zika is that women should have temporary access to contraception and abortion to avoid the birth of the babies with disabilities.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.