The Catholic Church has softened its stance on contraception when faced with the threat imposed by the Zika virus.
Pope Francis has given his blessings to the use of artificial contraception when it comes to the Zika virus and the damage it could cause an unborn baby.
The pope says that there is a clear moral difference between abortion and preventing a pregnancy, but has not gone as far as softening his stance on abortion of unwanted Zika-infected babies.
Pope Francis says that abortion “is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil at its root, no? It’s a human evil”. “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.”
Japan Times reports:
Francis was asked Wednesday en route home from Mexico if abortion or birth control could be considered a “lesser evil,” when confronting the Zika crisis in Brazil, where some babies have been born with abnormally small heads to Zika-infected mothers.
The World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency over the Zika virus and its suspected links to birth defects. The virus has been reported in at least 34 countries, many of them in Central and Latin America. WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised pregnant women to consider delaying travel to Zika-infected countries.
The explosion of Zika cases has prompted some governments in Latin America to urge women to avoid getting pregnant and has fueled calls from abortion rights groups to loosen the strict anti-abortion laws in the overwhelmingly Catholic region.
But Francis excluded abortion absolutely from the debate.
“Abortion isn’t a lesser evil, it’s a crime,” he told reporters. “Taking one life to save another, that’s what the Mafia does. It’s a crime. It’s an absolute evil.”
Francis, however, drew a parallel to the decision taken by Pope Paul VI in the 1960s to approve giving nuns in Belgian Congo artificial contraception to prevent pregnancies because they were being systematically raped.
Abortion “is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil at its root, no? It’s a human evil,” he said. “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one (Zika), such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.”
Francis has tended to downplay the fraught moral hand-wringing over sexual ethics that preoccupied his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He has said the church shouldn’t be “obsessed” with such issues.
Coming home from Africa last year, Francis similarly dismissed a question about whether condoms could be used in the fight against AIDS. Francis said there were far more pressing issues in Africa, such as poverty and exploitation, to be concerned about and that only when those problems were resolved should questions about condoms and AIDS take center stage.
Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, did urge doctors to come up with a vaccine to prevent Zika from spreading. “This needs to be worked on,” he said.
Several of Latin America’s conservative churchmen have reasserted the church’s opposition to both abortion and artificial contraception as more reports of Zika cases and brain-damaged babies emerged.
The Vatican says that there should be no abortions for pregnant women who have been exposed to the Zika virus, according to the Irish Examiner:
The Vatican has said pregnant women exposed to the Zika virus and who may be carrying foetuses with serious brain defects should not be allowed have abortions.
The Catholic church made clear its position of opposing abortion in all circumstances after a Catholic group appealed to Pope Francis to allow Church members to “follow their conscience” and use contraception or to let women have abortions to protect themselves against the virus.
However, the Vatican said: “Not only is increased access to abortion and abortifacients [abortion-inducing drugs] an illegitimate response to this crisis, but since it terminates the life of a child it is fundamentally not preventative.”
Zika, whose symptoms include mild fever and rash, has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, although the connection is not yet proven.
The Holy See representative to the UN announced the Vatican’s response during the launch of a campaign by the World Health Organisation (Who) to tackle the spread of the Zika crisis.
“It must be emphasised that a diagnosis of microcephaly in a child should not warrant a death sentence,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN.
The Who has previously advised women in areas with the virus to protect themselves, especially during pregnancy, by covering up against mosquitoes and practising safe sex with their partners.
The Vatican is also against contraception.
Zika has been linked to severe birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil and is spreading rapidly in the Americas. Catholics for Choice, a liberal advocacy group based in Washington, asked Pope Francis, Latin America’s first pope, to “really stand in solidarity with the poor”.
“Women’s decisions around pregnancy, including the decision to end a pregnancy, need to be respected, not condemned,” it said.
The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception and that abortion is killing.
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