Brazil has registered 404 confirmed cases of microcephaly, where the baby is born with an abnormally small head and brain, since October 2015. Another 3,670 cases are not yet confirmed. Scientists have suggested that the Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, appears to cause the condition in fetuses born to mothers who have been infected.
Abortion is restricted in Latin America's biggest country to cases of rape, where the fetus has no brain, or where the mother's life is in danger. The UN human rights office has called on countries where the Zika virus is thought to be linked to a rash of microcephaly cases to relax laws and allow pregnant women with Zika to terminate.
But, the Catholic Church in Brazil on Wednesday, February 9, 2016, rejected calls supported by the United Nations to allow abortion in cases of the birth defect microcephaly. Auxiliary Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, secretary general of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference, said, "Microcephaly has been occurring in Brazil for years. They are taking advantage of this moment to reintroduce the abortion topic. Abortion leads to eugenics, the practice of selecting perfect people."
An estimated million illegal abortions are carried out each year in Brazil.