In its first statement related to the health crisis sparked by the Zika virus, the Brazilian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the disease is "no justification whatsoever to promote abortion."

In the statement, released Feb. 4, the Brazilian bishops say that it is not morally acceptable to promote abortion "in the cases of microcephaly, as, unfortunately, some groups are proposing to the Supreme Federal Court, in a total lack of respect for the gift of life."

Early this week, a group of feminist organizations asked the Supreme Federal Court in Brazil to legalize abortion in cases of "malformation of the fetus." Abortion is illegal in Brazil, except in cases of rape, situations deemed to be health emergencies, or if the baby has a fatal abnormality known as anencephaly.

Concerns over the Zika outbreak continue to grow as the virus – spread by mosquitos and sexual contact – has reached at least 29 countries. World Health Organization estimates suggest that 3 to 4 million people throughout the Americas will be infected in 2016. 

While the symptoms are usually mild to moderate, the virus can have serious consequences for pregnant women. It has been linked to a rise in microcephaly – a condition in which babies are born with small heads and other complications. As a result, some groups have called for an expansion of abortion in Latin America.

Regarding the World Health Organization decision to declare a global health emergency because of the Zika virus, which has significantly expanded in Brazil, the bishops said that "we should not give in to panic, nor act as if we were in a situation that, despite its gravity, is not invincible."

Brazil's ministry of health announced today that its investigation has reported 3,670 cases of microcephaly. So far, 709 have been discarded and 404 confirmed, out of which only 17 are related to the Zika virus. 

"The connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly deserves special attention, even though it has not been scientifically proven," the bishops also say. 

They called "all Catholics in Brazil to continue cooperating in the fight against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito" – which transmits the Zika virus as well as the Dengue and Chikungunya viruses – and called politicians to "secure medical assistance to the persons affected by the disease, especially babies with microcephaly and their families."

More in Americas

"Health is a right that must be guaranteed. Without a comprehensive and effective national health policy, all efforts to fight the disease will be compromised."

Finally, the bishops asked lay Catholic leaders across the country to "get organized and help the people to acquire awareness of the dire situation, as well as the best ways to prevent the disease. With the help of each one of us, we will prevail."