By Dorothy Le —
Zika virus is an infection caught from the Aedes aegypti mosquito and is rapidly spreading in Latin America. If pregnant women contract the disease, it causes microcephaly in the fetuses, which in turn shrinks the brain and causes the head to grow proportionately smaller than the body. It will also cause developmental delays, impaired movement and speech, and other severe health issues. This virus is dominant in South America, which has a population of 1.2 billion Catholics.
The Roman Catholic Church is notorious for their rigid regulation against contraceptives, but may find it necessary to shift their stance due to the rise of Zika virus.
According to the Brazil Ministry of Health, from November 8, 2015 through January 30, 2016, 404 babies were born with microcephaly, in which 17 of these cases were linked to Zika. At this rate, 500 newborns will be born with microcephaly in the upcoming months.
The Catholic Church’s response to this epidemic is simply for women to abstain from getting pregnant for up to two years in order to halt the spread of the virus. And adhering to their staunch doctrines, they are forbidding women to receive oral contraceptives and other forms of birth control to prevent pregnancy.
Many women had abortions out of fear that their babies may be born with defects, and thus have been heavily criticized by the Church. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even declared the virus a “global health emergency,” yet church leaders are still inflexible in finding a more practical solution.
There are some who advocate for legal abortion, as in the case of Judge Jesseir Coelho de Alcantara from the central state of Goiás. He shares, “I know this is very difficult because the subject is new, requires thorough discussion and a great deal of religious influence persists. But my position is that abortion for microcephaly should be allowed.”
Many religious leaders, such as Reverend Luciano Brito from the Catholic Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife, have retorted this statement, claiming that “nothing justifies an abortion. Just because a fetus has microcephaly won’t make us favorable to change the law.”
As the debate continues, the families in Latin America are in waiting on whether or not the Catholic Church will reconsider their doctrines in order to save the lives of future unborn babies.