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Pope Francis Offers Little to Those Facing Zika Crisis: His Business-as-Usual Approach Displays a Blind Spot on Women

February 18, 2016

Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement in response to Pope Francis’ recent comments about abortion and contraception on the papal plane back from Mexico:

“For the Global North, Francis’ comments about abortion being ‘absolute evil’ are profoundly disappointing and wrong. For the Global South, the pope’s remarks are devastating and could be deadly. It’s a fact that when women who are desperate to end a pregnancy don’t get access to safe and legal services, they can resort to unsafe abortions, whether by self-administering or going to an unqualified provider. When women find themselves in these desperate situations, they suffer and they die. Pope Francis should be well aware of that.

“What was supposed to be a throwaway remark on the papal plane should have been addressed as part of a proper program of events during his visit in Mexico, considering that women in Latin America are facing such terrifying ordeals with the Zika virus. This lack of sensitivity and responsiveness to a health crisis betrays once again that Pope Francis has a blind spot when it comes to women. He does not recognize the serious situations they face when they are denied access. We know that Catholics the world over, do choose to terminate pregnancies and use their conscience as the final arbiter in moral decision-making.

“It’s a crying shame that Pope Francis continues to make comments that are business-as-usual, as opposed to a more compassionate and comprehensive response to the virus. Interestingly, the pope failed to address the issue from a real social justice perspective. So often, Francis addresses issues of poverty, but he doesn’t recognize that it’s poor women who suffer and die from restrictions to their reproductive health. The rich can always circumvent any restriction.

“We hope that the world’s media understands that his comments about the possibility of using contraception to prevent the spread of the Zika virus represent little or no change. When talking about the use of condoms to protect the life of another from the spread of HIV, Pope Benedict equally did not officially endorse their use. Pope Francis said that he saw how using contraception to prevent transmission of the virus could be allowed, but this falls far short of the type of change that women all over the world have been crying out for. It’s an inadequate response considering the health crisis that women are facing in Latin America right now, and that women all over the world face every day.

“It’s no secret that faithful Catholics completely ignore whatever the pope or hierarchy says in relation to contraception, and these Catholics continue to use contraception in high numbers. In the United States, 99 percent of sexually active women have used birth control that the bishops do not approve of.

“Francis missed an important opportunity today. He could have done the right thing for women’s health—especially the health of poor women in the Global South. Catholics for Choice has placed advertisements calling for the pope to do just that in the International New York Times, in papers in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and we will continue to campaign so that politicians recognize their responsibility to make contraception, abortion and reproductive choices available to all.”

Read Jon O’Brien’s op-ed in TIME, calling for the pope to lift the abortion and contraception bans.