Zika Shouldn’​t Legitimize Abortions Of Imperfect Babies

Science and medicine have yet to demonstrate exactly how and when Zika affects the brain of a fetus, yet people are rushing to conclude that abortion is the logical choice. A journalist with his own physical limitations weighs in.

A pregnant woman getting an ultrasound in Recife, Brazil
A pregnant woman getting an ultrasound in Recife, Brazil
Jairo Marques*


SAN PAULO â€" Babies born with microcephaly have very little chance to live meaningful lives. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. I've been reading about the comments of parents, who say these babies "cry too much," that the damage to their brains is extensive, that they have visual impairments, among others.

Science and medicine have yet to demonstrate exactly how and when the Zika virus affects the brain of a fetus, and yet they say that babies born with it won't ever have a decent life, that they won't be able to navigate the challenges and become normal people.

And so out of all this has sprung the idea that abortion is the easiest and least dramatic solution for all, including society, which then wouldn't be burdened with the problem.

The idea is that to face the difficulties, to love and raise a child born in contradiction to what's considered normal would be a stupid, almost barbaric choice.

Raising a baby â€" any baby â€" comes with hidden challenges that test our beliefs and teach us different ways to face reality. All over the world, thousands of people live with rather incapacitating deficiencies of various kinds. With support, access to medical interventions from the very beginning and an understanding of their needs, many of them are able to grow up happily and contribute in meaningful ways.

This isn't about the right of women to make decisions they find most appropriate for their bodies and wombs. This is about stopping to question whether we should really legitimize the eradication of a generation.

Though they might be hiding some frustration and fear somewhere in their minds, each father and mother who embrace a son or a daughter with limitations loves every inch of them and laughs in their moments of silliness. Never would they abandon or give up on their child.

The tragedy of microcephaly has given rise to an outcry that had drowned the sounds of resilience and happiness among families, even those who are struggling with their children's disabilities.

I defend free will. But I can't accept or get used to the fact that this other choice, which is much more fragile, is being hidden. I can't accept or get used to the extreme reactions to a disease that hasn't yet been entirely mapped or understood. And I can't accept the attitude of pity towards those who decide to embrace their imperfect offspring and love them despite the certain challenges.

No, I wouldn't wish to have a child with microcephaly, who is constantly limited and who would consume most of my time, money and emotions. But I wouldn't decide to have or not have a baby with severe disabilities based on fear, vanity or supposed personal incapacities.

*Jairo Marques is a reporter who regularly writes about living with physical limitations. He has used a wheelchair since childhood.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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