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Geovane Silva holds his son Gustavo Henrique, who has microcephaly, at the Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Recife, Brazil, January 26, 2016. Health authorities in the Brazilian state at the center of a rapidly spreading Zika outbreak have been overwhelmed by the alarming surge in cases of babies born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder associated to the mosquito-borne virus. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

Zika is starting to create not a little hysteria as the new viral epidemic threatens unborn children with permanent brain damage. What parent can look forward to birthing a disabled child? What parent can turn away with suffering love for their children in what ever condition they are in?

Brazil, the epicentre of the epidemic, is just one of several countries affected by the Zika virus where abortions are illegal, or heavily restricted, and come with jail time. “Activists say this outbreak is not solely about a mosquito, it is about reproductive rights (sic) across Latin America.” They point out that the Zika scare is highlighting unsafe abortion practices that put women’s health at risk; they are not so much concerned about abortion putting the child’s health at risk.

Part of the intricate problem is that this virus, like so many health issues, will disproportionately affect poor, young, women in remote areas.  Debra Deniz, Law Professor of Brasilia University says, “the epidemic is mirroring the social inequality of this country.”

Add to this reality, the lack of support to enable women to prevent pregnancy – and the lack of support to help parents raise a severely disabled child, and we have women caught between unwanted pregnancies and unsupported births.

The prevailing Zeitgeist is to summarily abort in the fear of giving birth to a child with microcephaly.

What is the real fear?

Isn’t the real fear more to do with what it would cost emotionally and financially to care for a disabled child? Isn’t it more about the fear of worthlessness? The Zika tragedy exposes our understanding of personhood, and we are afraid that such a person is no person at all.

Thus, in 1st world hubris the story is reported as “Zika virus could lead to rise in unsafe abortions in Latin America.” In the interview with Carmen Barroso, Regional Director of Planned Parenthood International, she notes the risks are compounded by what she calls a “national negligence to prevent the zika contagion.” She is completely open to the fact that the Zika epidemic will be exploited in order to (finally) introduce abortion into the country.

One could not have had a better tactical opportunity to open the flood gates of dehumanizing both the mother and the child by abortion – than to capitalize on the prevailing mood worldwide to abort female fetuses in general, and to prevent the birth of those debilitated by the Zika virus in particular.

Unspeakable Sense of Worth?

I know it is not as simple as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” (as much as those camps would like to reduce the arguments to sound bites and limited logic).  I can imagine there are existential screams at what I am hinting here. But after the dust settles, after thousands of disabled children are born, and hundreds of thousands more are aborted, we will be left with our unspeakable sense of worth.

Unspeakable, because to encourage the birth of a disabled child says something about the worth of personhood, and commits the parent(s) with all their supporters to a life-long sentence of increased care.  Unspeakable, because to promote abortion is to say something about the worthlessness of those who possess such a disability, and it diminishes us all to value based on utility and productivity.

In the words of Mother Teresa, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

What can we do?

When faced with numerous plagues in the 16th Century (the English Sweating Sickness and several waves of the Bubonic Plague), Martin Luther posted an open letter in November 1527, urging Christians “not to flee in the face of danger.”

No one may flee from his neighbour unless there is somebody to take his place in waiting upon and nursing the sick. In all such cases the words of Christ are to be feared: ‘I was sick and you visited me not.’ These words of Christ bind each of us to the other. No one may forsake his neighbour when he is in trouble. Everybody is under obligation to help and support his neighbour as he would himself like to be helped.

He urged people of faith “not to be fearful, afraid, and timid about death,” in order that death might not appear to be the worst possible thing – as if “despairing for our lives would reveal that we are unwilling and unprepared to die” and thus become “so enveloped in the dark clouds of fear and worry that we forget and lose sight of Christ, our light and life…”

“After all,” Luther concludes, “you must eventually die; and in such dangerous times as these, amid such hopeless evil… no one ought to desire long life.”

This is not the sort of thing we would expect to read today.  In deed, this ethic is not informed by what is in one’s singular best interest, but in the interest of living like and for Christ – for the life of the world. It is informed by a sense of one’s indestructible worth of personhood and the joy of bestowing this to others.

In the midst of difficult choices and no-easy answers, this is more enigma than dogma.