The Catholic church made clear its position of opposing abortion in all circumstances after a Catholic group appealed to Pope Francis to allow Church members to “follow their conscience” and use contraception or to let women have abortions to protect themselves against the virus.
However, the Vatican said: “Not only is increased access to abortion and abortifacients [abortion-inducing drugs] an illegitimate response to this crisis, but since it terminates the life of a child it is fundamentally not preventative.”
Zika, whose symptoms include mild fever and rash, has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, although the connection is not yet proven.
The Holy See representative to the UN announced the Vatican’s response during the launch of a campaign by the World Health Organisation (Who) to tackle the spread of the Zika crisis.
“It must be emphasised that a diagnosis of microcephaly in a child should not warrant a death sentence,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN.
The Who has previously advised women in areas with the virus to protect themselves, especially during pregnancy, by covering up against mosquitoes and practising safe sex with their partners.
The Vatican is also against contraception.
Zika has been linked to severe birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil and is spreading rapidly in the Americas. Catholics for Choice, a liberal advocacy group based in Washington, asked Pope Francis, Latin America’s first pope, to “really stand in solidarity with the poor”.
“Women’s decisions around pregnancy, including the decision to end a pregnancy, need to be respected, not condemned,” it said.
The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception and that abortion is killing.