KINGSTON –– The severity of the global outbreak of the Zika virus (ZIKV) and its potential threat to newborn babies has sparked international debates about abortion, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Jamaica did not miss the opportunity to share its views on the controversial topic.
A report from the British Broadcasting Corporation earlier this year highlighted a group of Brazilian lawyers who asked the Supreme Court to allow abortion for women who had contracted the virus, putting their unborn child at risk of developing a serious birth defect.
According to health practitioners and researchers, babies born to mothers who had contracted ZIKV were at great risk of developing microcephaly, an abnormal growth of the brain and stunting of the growth of the head of the foetus arising from infection in the first months of pregnancy. Babies who develop microcephaly in the womb may not live to full term, may be born prematurely, may be stillborn, or may survive, but with life-long disability.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicted that more than 2,500 babies in Brazil could be affected.
Speaking last week during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum, president of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists Pastor Everett Brown told journalists that although the topic of abortion was a delicate one for the church, the organisation has never been totally against the practice.
“We have never had the view that under no circumstance, a mother cannot abort a child. We have held the view that life is sacred, however, an individual has the right in terms of a medical situation if so advised by the medical practitioner,” he said.
“We are aware that there are circumstances where the baby being born would be unhealthy for the baby or the mother. That’s a position we have always taken and, so, I would not be averse to any work in legislation where in a medical situation, the mother would be given the right to carry out such action.”
Dr Reverend Lenworth Anglin, former chairman of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches, shared similar sentiments in an interview with The Gleaner earlier this year, noting that there were some situations where exceptions were warranted.
“I have to respect the law of the country but recognise that this could become a crisis and, therefore, it has to be dealt with as such, and so extreme measures are required sometimes. I would have to accept the possibility of allowing abortion rather than allowing a child to be born to encounter lifelong consequences,” Anglin said.
“There has to be, in my mind, some consideration of exception.”
WHO has declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern. Several countries have advised women to delay pregnancy for up to a year until the threat has passed.
Studies have linked the virus to severe medical complications as well as death. In additional to microcephaly, Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes, paralysis.
So far, Jamaica has four confirmed cases of ZIKV.