Brazil has begun to confiscate pills sent to women worried about the Zika virus, which can cause microcephaly in newborns, as well as a host of other medical problems. Women on Web has received close to 20,000 emails from women in Latin America who need access to abortion pills because they have been infected with Zika, but the pills that were sent are now being confiscated by Brazilian officials.
In addition to Brazil, the requests for the pills are coming from Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador, where Zika is also known to be present. Abortion is illegal in all those countries and difficult to ascertain. So far, officials have harnessed almost all of the 4,000 pills that were sent to women in infected areas.
Women on Web is telling women to have the pills shipped to an address in a country that won’t confiscate the pills, like Argentina, but that could be a long way for many women to travel. Impoverished women are being hit the hardest by the Zika virus, as they often don’t have access to necessary medical care, contraception, or information. Many of them are also unable to afford medical care or safe abortions; many are also trying to raise multiple children simultaneously.
“We have a situation here in which women are having clandestine abortions, and in which women are dying,” says Sonia Coelho, a spokesperson for the National Campaigb for the Legalization of Abortion. “This brings consequences, principally for poorer women and black women, who lack the means to have an abortion in a safer place.”
Brazilian officials are forthcoming about confiscating the packages. The Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency said that it is illegal for people to receive the drugs—misoprostol—which will induce abortions. “Packages are checked when they arrive at the post office, and if medications are discovered they are forwarded to us,” said Carlos Dias Lopes, an agency press officer. “We have a duty to send any illegal substances for destruction.”
A woman whose medications were confiscated twice wrote to Women on Web, “Here in my town there’s nothing else to do; it’s either your service or nothing.”
So far, more than 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly because of the Zika virus.