Pope Francis has suggested that women at risk for contracting the Zika virus may use contraceptives, despite the Catholic Church’s history of prohibiting them.
During a press conference aboard a flight, the Pope discussed options for women dealing with the virus, and was asked about his opinion on contraception compared to his opinion on women who abort fetuses infected with Zika, reported CNN. Pope Francis called abortion an “absolute evil” and a “crime.”
“It is to kill someone in order to save another. This is what the Mafia does,” Francis said. “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.”
The Pope then compared his view to a historical precedent in which Pope Paul VI allowed the use of contraceptives “in cases of rape.” The Pope was referring to an occasion in the 1960s when nuns in the Belgian Congo used contraception to avoid the threat of becoming pregnant by rape — a common problem during the country’s time of political strife.
Rev. James Keenan, a Catholic sexual ethics expert, told CNN that the Pope’s comments could have broad implications for many women in Latin America, the United States, and elsewhere.
“This is not just about individuals,” he said. “This is about the thousands of Catholic hospitals that can help women in this situation by providing contraception.”