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Pope suggests contraception can be condoned in Zika crisis

Pope Francis suggested Monday that women threatened with the Zika virus could use artificial contraception to prevent rare birth defects that have been linked to the virus.

Francis told reporters aboard the papal plane that, while aborting a fetus is an unacceptable crime, “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.” He pointed to a previous decision by Pope Paul VI in the 1960s that allowed nuns in the Belgian Congo to use artificial contraception because they were being systematically raped.

A 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI affirmed the church's prohibition against artificial birth control but allowed for its therapeutic use “to cure bodily diseases.” Despite that precedent, Francis last year dismissed the sentiment that condoms could be used in the fight against AIDS, noting that there are more significant issues to be dealt with in Africa.

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said in a written statement that Pope Francis “clearly appreciates the human factor in the Zika threat” in his discussion of contraception.

“There are many recommendations coming out daily from WHO, CDC and other reputable organizations, addressing the relevant issues including travel-related guidance, blood donations, pregnancies and others,” Keehan said. “Physicians and the media are actively sharing this information so people can make their own informed choices.”

Most Catholic hospital pharmacies already stock contraceptive drugs for use in treating other medical conditions, according to CHA. A spokesman said physicians have to practice medicine “by following their own clinical judgement and by employing their own knowledge and conscience.”

Several major Catholic providers were not able to immediately provide comment Monday afternoon.


Adam Rubenfire

Adam Rubenfire covers supply chain for Modern Healthcare. His beat responsibilities include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, capital equipment, group purchasing organizations and medical supplies. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Automotive News and Crain’s Detroit Business. He has a bachelor’s degree in organizational studies from the University of Michigan. He joined Modern Healthcare in 2014.

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