Pope Francis has seemingly given his blessing to women in Zika virus-ridden countries to utilize birth control as a means to avoid pregnancy and potential birth complications. The statement that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil” comes in stark contrast to the Catholic Church’s longstanding ban on the use of contraceptives. However, it seems that Pope Francis is making an exception in a bid to curb abortions that may result from devastating neurological birth defects. In fact, the pope also pointed out other times in history that the Catholic Church has backed down from their staunch stance on birth control.
CNN reports that Pope Francis made a surprising statement regarding contraceptives while holding a conference on his flight from Mexico back to Rome last Thursday. During the conference, the pope indicated that birth control “is not an absolute evil” and that in some rare circumstances it may be utilized as a “lesser of two evils.” In this particular instance, Pope Francis was referring to the use of birth control by women in Zika virus-infected regions. With concern over birth complications, including microcephaly, the pope indicated that birth control may be acceptable to slow the spread of the virus for the time being.
In fact, the pope referenced other occasions in history when the Catholic Church backed down from its ban on birth control for special circumstances. For example, Pope Francis detailed how Pope Paul VI had allowed for the use of contraceptives by Catholic nuns in Africa after nuns began being systematically raped in the region. Therefore, at the time of the rapes in the 1960s, Pope Paul VI allowed the nuns to use anovulant that prevented the women from ovulating. This meant that if a nun were raped, she would not get pregnant.
Rev. James Keenan, an expert on Catholic sexual ethics and morality, tells CNN that Pope Francis referenced the previous exception to the ban on birth control by Pope Paul VI as a means to legitimize his stance that women in Zike stricken regions should be allowed the same access.
“There was a legitimation of contraception at the time, and I think he’s saying that a similar situation now exists in countries where the Zika virus is prevalent.”
The statement was welcomed by health officials in Central and South America, as much of the country identify as Roman Catholic. The pope indicated that birth control was a better option than abortion, which has increased in light of the Zike virus scare. While stating birth control is “not an absolute evil,” Pope Francis stood firm on his stance that abortion, in all cases, is “an absolute evil.” Therefore, he hopes women will choose the “lesser of two evils” when it comes to the Zika virus scare.
Pope Francis suggests women in Zika-affected countries should be able to use birth control https://t.co/85iCrA06hy…
— Roy Crockett (@rcrockett) February 27, 2016
A reporter for the Guardian notes that Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s easing up on birth control restrictions for women in Zika virus ridden areas is about “as encouraging as it gets” in regards to allowing women access to birth control options who follow the Catholic faith. However, the writer notes that with Pope Francis acknowledging birth control as a means to prevent the aborting of babies with microcephaly, he should also be stepping up to encourage birth control, such as condom use, in African countries suffering from AIDS epidemics.
“While the response to Zika is encouraging, doesn’t it also serve as a disturbing contrast to the Vatican’s continuing refusal to condone condoms as protection in Aids-afflicted Africa? Why is “permission” being granted to safeguard against one virus, Zika, but not against HIV and Aids? While Zika is horrific, how many lives has Aids claimed and ruined, including babies who are born HIV-positive?”
— Keli Goff (@keligoff) February 23, 2016
What do you think about Pope Francis and his statement that birth control is not an “absolute evil” and may be the “lesser of two evils” in regards to the Zika virus epidemic? Does it surprise you that the Catholic Church is now condoning the use of contraceptives in certain special cases?
[Photo by Alessandro Di Meo/AP]