Sunday 4 December 2016

Using birth control is okay to fight Zika - Pontiff

Nicola Winefield in New York

Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30

Pope Francis is embraced next to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (L) and First Lady Angelica Rivera (R) at the airport in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico.
Pope Francis is embraced next to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (L) and First Lady Angelica Rivera (R) at the airport in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico.

Pope Francis has suggested that women threatened with the Zika virus could use artificial contraception, saying there's a clear moral difference between aborting a foetus and preventing a pregnancy.

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He was asked 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 US 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 fuelled calls from abortion rights groups to loosen the strict anti-abortion laws in the overwhelmingly Catholic region. But Pope 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."

Pope 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 moral hand-wringing over sexual ethics that preoccupied John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

He has said the church shouldn't be the "obsessed" with such issues.

Irish Independent

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