zika baby microsephaly
Jackeline, 30, bottle-feeds her son Gustavo Henrique, 2-months, who suffers from microcephaly. Recife, Brazil, February 11, 2016. The zika virus, which has proliferated in Brazil, Colombia and other Latin American countries, is suspected to increase the risk of microcephaly REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Pope Francis thinks that the zika virus might prompt an exception to his blanket ban on birth control drugs and devices. The Holy Roman Catholic Church leader suggested as much on Thursday when reporters asked him if artificial contraception and abortion might be a “lesser evil” in the hard choice facing women across Latin America. The church has created exceptions for birth control use in the past, such as for women, including nuns, who face high risks of rape.

"Avoiding a pregnancy is not an absolute evil," the pontiff told reporters, according to the AFP.

Zika has been linked to a debilitating birth defect called microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with deformed heads. State officials from the U.S. to Brazil have encouraged women living or traveling in zika-affected areas not to become pregnant. The majority-Catholic countries of Latin America where zika is threatening the most people are also the countries that ban abortion with few or no exceptions. With governments telling women not to bear children, but prohibiting them from aborting, the warnings have rekindled the abortion debate.

Pope Francis did not cede any ground on the abortion debate, however, calling it a “crime,” compared to the “lesser evil” of contraception use.

"We must not confuse the evil consisted of avoiding a pregnancy with abortion," Francis said, adding later "I would also urge doctors to do everything they can to develop a vaccine."

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