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    Women's health advocates say Zika infections should be considered a "deformed fetus" due to the extreme health risks. | Photo: Reuters

The Zika virus is believed to cause severe health defects in newborns, including developmental issues, brain damage and sometimes death.

The Zika virus, which has been shown to cause health defects in newborns, has put women and expectant mothers on alert, and opened up the abortion debate in several Latin American countries.

In Colombia—where over 13,500 cases of the Zika virus have been detected—officials have warned pregnant women to stay away from mosquito-borne areas, as the virus is believed to cause microcephaly, a rare brain defect that causes abnormally small heads in newborns. Some governments have also warned women not to get pregnant, due to the extreme health risks for newborns, which have been met with extreme criticism by women’s rights advocates.

These dangers, have also brought up an important debate in Colombia, which has been encouraged by women's rights organizations—whether women affected by the Zika virus should be allowed access to abortion procedures, according to local media.

“Women should know that they can decide about their sexual and reproductive rights ... Having a fetus with microcephaly is a complication, and the woman can decide whether she wants to keep it or not. Her life matters as much as the mental and economic health of women,” explained Silvia Plana, coordinator of the Bureau for the Life and Health of Women, to Semana magazine.

Since 2006, abortion procedures have been authorized in Colombia but only under strict conditions, including cases of rape, if the woman's life is in jeopardy or in cases of a deformed fetus.

According to Plana, the fetus of women infected by the Zika virus should be considered “deformed” thus making the procedure lawful, at least in Colombia.

The World Health Organization reported Monday that cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus have been detected in every country in the Americas except Canada, and is expected to spread throughout the region.

WATCH: Zika to Spread Across Americas: WHO


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