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Story highlights

More than half of Brazilian women polled said they avoided pregnancy due to Zika

Authors argue women need additional contraceptive options via the public health service

(CNN) —  

A poll of Brazilian women found that more than half had avoided or tried to avoid getting pregnant due to fears of having a baby born with Zika-related birth defects, according to research published in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.

Using face-to-face interviews from June, Brazilian researchers asked a nationally representative sample of 2,002 urban, literate Brazilian women ages 18 to 39 about their reproductive plans during the Zika epidemic that has ravaged the nation. The authors say those women correspond to 83% of the total female population in Brazil.

“The results provide an important first glimpse into how the Zika epidemic has shaped pregnancy intentions among women in Brazil,” the authors wrote.

Zika is responsible for a number of serious birth defects, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy, that together is called congenital Zika syndrome. Those defects include the small head and brain of microcephaly as well as other hearing, vision and developmental delays.

To date, Brazil has confirmed 1,845 cases of congenital Zika syndrome, with the vast majority occurring in the northeastern portion of the country.

Not surprisingly, a higher number of women (66%) who live in northeastern Brazil reported avoiding pregnancy, compared with those in the south (46%), where Zika has not been as prevalent.

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While Brazil is heavily Catholic, religion did not seem to affect the responses. Of those polled, 58% of Catholic women and 55% of evangelical women reported having avoided pregnancy because of the Zika epidemic.

Only 27% of those surveyed said they had not tried to avoid pregnancy, while 16% said they had no plans to get pregnant regardless of Zika.

The authors concluded that the Brazilian government should “place reproductive health concerns at the center of its response, including reviewing its continued criminalization of abortion.”

They also urged policy health services to provide Brazilian women with a larger range of contraception options, including long-acting reversible devices such as IUDs, which are scarce, and hormonal implants, which they say are not available to women at all.