The pontiff expanded on the evil of abortion.
“It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned,” he said.
The Pope’s comments addressed a question from the journalist Paloma García Ovejero of the Spanish radio network Cadena COPE. She had noted the concern in Latin American and European countries regarding the Zika virus.
“The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish,” the journalist said. “Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoid pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of ‘the lesser of two evils’?”
There is a major outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Brazil and Latin America. The virus infection in pregnant women may be linked to birth defects in unborn babies such as microcephaly. Some pro-abortion groups have used this possible link as a justification to push for an expansion of legislated abortion.
Pope Francis in his response also addressed avoiding pregnancy. He discussed it “in terms of the conflict between the Fifth and Sixth Commandment.”
In the Catholic numbering, the Fifth Commandment bars killing while the Sixth Commandment bars adultery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses elective contraception in a marital union under the Sixth Commandment.
“Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape,” Pope Francis said. He added that avoiding pregnancy is “not an absolute evil.”
“In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.”
The case he referenced took place in the early 1960s, when the Vatican granted a dispensation to religious sisters living in the Belgian Congo who were in grave danger of rape to use oral contraceptives.
The logic behind the decision was that while birth control is normally immoral because it attempts to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act, the nuns were trying to resist the act altogether. Because rape is an act of violent aggression rather than a freely chosen act, the contraception was part of a legitimate attempt at self-defense.
Normally, if a married couple faces a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, the Church teaches that they may do so through Natural Family Planning, a process that involves identifying a woman’s fertile periods and abstaining from sexual activity during those times.
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The Pope also called for stronger work to combat the mosquitos and the Zika virus they spread.
“I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.”