Pope Francis has suggested women threatened with the Zika virus could use artificial contraception, saying "avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil" in light of the global epidemic. The pope unequivocally rejected abortion as a response to the crisis in remarks Wednesday as he flew home after a five-day trip to Mexico. But he drew a parallel to a decision 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," Francis told reporters. "On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil." Francis was responding to a reporter's question about whether abortion or birth control could be considered a "lesser evil" when confronting the Zika crisis in Brazil, where there has been a spike in babies born with abnormally small heads to Zika-infected mothers. Theologians and some Latin American bishops cautioned the pope was not giving a green light for Catholics to use artificial birth control, nor did his remarks amount to a change in church teaching. (Francis' Zika remarks were largely overshadowed by comments that drew an angry response from Donald Trump.)