By: Jenny Eaton Dyer, PhD
By now, you probably know that if you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming it’s crucial to protect yourself from the Zika virus. You know to use insect repellent daily. You know to refrain from unprotected sex with a man who has traveled to an area where Zika is present.
And if you live in an area where Zika is present, you may even be thinking about a bigger step: delaying pregnancy.
To do that, many women will rely on birth control. For most women in the United States, birth control is relatively easy to access whether it be through their doctor or nurse, pharmacist, or even online.
But in some places where Zika is at its worst, women have the least access to birth control. Taking an active role in safe sex practices and postponing pregnancy for many women in Latin America isn’t an option.
Due to the high rates of sexual violence, cultural-religious prohibitions for birth control, limited access of contraceptives to women, and documented “stock outs” (whereby pharmacies sell out of contraceptives without the capacity to restock their shelves), modern methods of contraception are simply not available. Doctors, families, and husbands are often the gatekeepers that present monumental obstacles for women, impeding them from access.
That’s a sad situation for any woman.
More than 300,000 women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth worldwide each year, and 5.9 million children die before their fifth birthday. One way to prevent maternal mortality and child deaths is simply access to family planning, or healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.
Now, as women face legitimate fears about conceiving a baby who may suffer from major birth defects, the need for change has never been more urgent.
Because of the potential birth defects of microcephaly caused by the Zika virus, even the Pope has supported modern contraceptives as a means to prevent the devastation. He offered unique permission for contraceptive use in spite of the longstanding ban on artificial birth control in the Catholic Church.
Isn’t it time we demanded more change like that?
Tell your local senator or Congressional representative you support efforts to improve international family planning to save lives. Tell them it will not only make a basic difference in women’s lives, but it may also protect them from having babies with severe birth defects. It just takes one email to raise your voice to help other women – women just like you – in other parts of the world.
And, here at home, women able to become pregnant, whether or not the Zika virus becomes a threat as a mosquito-borne illness, should consider the critical role of contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancies. Even with all the resources of counseling and contraception available, nearly half (45%) of all the pregnancies are unintended in the U.S.
Join us this September 26 to celebrate World Contraception Day. This is a moment, in the midst of crisis, to highlight the life-saving miracle of contraceptives for all women and children here at home and around the world.
This article originally appeared on What To Expect.