Emer O’Toole: What hope has Pope Francis offered to women exposed to Zika? None

(The Guardian) Commenting on the Zika crisis during a press conference on the papal jet, Pope Francis told reporters that abortion is “what the mafia does”, that is to say “a crime, an absolute evil”. Explaining, he said, “You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no?” According to the pope, it seems, women exposed to Zika choose abortion the same way they choose sofa cushions.

Of course, you’re unlikely to have read about these vicious attacks on the ostensibly murderous and materialistic motives of women who have abortions, because what the media reported instead is that Pope Francis suggested contraception could be used to stem the effects of Zika. This was widely praised as a radically liberal departure from Catholic doctrine, with the potential to improve Latin American women’s lives.

But Pope Francis never said that contraception can be used in the case of exposure to Zika. He advised, rather, not to “confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion”. In other words, contraception is still evil; it’s just less evil than killing people for lols. Given the framing of the question by the reporter, who asked whether the Catholic doctrine of “the lesser of two evils” might be applicable, Pope Francis’s response has been interpreted as a liberalisation of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 Humanae Vitae, which bans all artificial contraception.

This is quite the jump. In the interview, Francis references a case in the 50s and 60s where Catholic nuns in the Congo were at risk of rape, and Pope Paul VI – then an archbishop – is understood to have tacitly condoned a religious paper arguing that it would be “the lesser of two evils” for these nuns to use contraceptives. However, when Paul became pope in 1963, he did not write this position into law.

In aligning the Zika crisis with the Congo case, Francis does nothing to signal that he intends to liberalise church teaching on contraception. As Vatican expert John L Allen Jr reminds us, the Pope “did not say he was formally endorsing birth control to prevent infection”. Subsequent Vatican clarifications of the comments do not approve contraception for women at risk of Zika either. Rather, the Vatican says contraception can be “the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience”. Which we have known since the 50s. [More]


The Guardian