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Journalist with microcephaly slams abortion push in Brazil

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In the wake of the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas, one woman born with microcephaly – which is suspected to be linked to Zika – has said that what’s needed for those with the condition is assistance, not abortion.

Ana Carolina Cáceres, a Brazilian journalist, told the BBC's Ricardo Senra that microcephaly “is a box of surprises. You may suffer from serious problems or you may not. So I believe that those who have abortions are not giving their children a chance to succeed.”

Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has been linked to recent cases of microcephaly, a disorder characterized by an abnormally small heads, and often delayed brain development. Since October 2015 Brazil has seen more than 3,600 suspected cases, and 404 confirmed cases (compared with 150 cases throughout 2014).

While the increase in microcephaly is not certain to be linked to the Zika outbreak, it is “strongly suspected,” according to the World Health Organization.

Brazil's ministry of health has recommended that women in areas in the path of the Zika outbreak delay pregnancy for the time being, prompting several group to renew a push for access to contraception and abortion in Brazil. The nation' health minister said Brazil would have a “damaged generation” because of microcephaly.

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Cáceres told the BBC she would respond saying, “What is damaged is your statement, sir.”

She called herself “a fulfilled, happy woman” even though doctors told her parents she would never walk or talk and would enter a vegetative state until she died.

The 24 year-old decided to tell her story to the BBC to spread awareness that a microcephaly diagnosis should not be a death sentence.

“I survived, as do many others with microcephaly. Our mothers did not abort. That is why we exist.”

While acknowledging the problems of microcephaly – hospital bills were steep, operations were frequent, and she suffered seizures, which were managed with medication –  Cáceres emphasized that people with the condition can lead full lives.

Today she is a college graduate, a journalist, a blogger, and the author of a book about living with microcephaly. She decided to become a writer to “be a spokesperson for microcephaly.”

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She added, however, that “I certainly know that microcephaly can have more serious consequences than the ones I experienced and I am aware that not everyone with microcephaly will be lucky enough to have a life like mine.”

But when she heard that activists pushing to legalize abortion in Brazil because of the Zika virus outbreak, she said she “felt offended and attacked.”

“I believe that abortion is a short-sighted attempt to tackle the problem. The most important thing is access to treatment: counselling for parents and older sufferers, and physiotherapy and neurological treatment for those born with microcephaly,” Cáceres said.

She recommended that mothers and expectant mothers stay calm, and that they get to know mothers of children with microcephaly.

“With the spike of microcephaly cases in Brazil, the need for information is more important than ever. People need to put their prejudices aside and learn about this syndrome,” she said.

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