INTERNATIONAL: Catholic church refuses to back down on contraceptives ban despite Zika threat

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INTERNATIONAL: Catholic church refuses to back down on contraceptives ban despite Zika threat
A Brazilian mother and her 5-month-old daughter with microcephaly. Experts are not yet sure whether Zika is the cause of a sudden surge in babies born in Brazil with the birth defect. Photo credit: NY Times
 A Brazilian mother and her 5-month-old daughter with microcephaly. Experts are not yet sure whether Zika is the cause of a sudden surge in babies born in Brazil with the birth defect. Photo credit: NY Times
A Brazilian mother and her 5-month-old daughter with microcephaly. Experts are not yet sure whether Zika is the cause of a sudden surge in babies born in Brazil with the birth defect. Photo credit: NY Times

NEW YORK TIMES – As the Zika virus spreads in Latin America, Catholic leaders are warning women against using contraceptives or having abortions, even as health officials in some countries are advising women not to get pregnant because of the risk of birth defects.

The challenge posed by Zika for the Roman Catholic Church comes as Pope Francis is making his first trip to Mexico, where the virus appears to be spreading.

After a period of saying little, bishops in Latin America are beginning to speak up and reassert the church’s opposition to birth control and abortion — positions that in Latin America are unpopular and often disregarded, even among Catholics.

“Contraceptives are not a solution,” said Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, the secretary general of the National Council of Bishops of Brazil, and an auxiliary bishop of Brasília, in an interview. “There is not a single change in the church’s position.”

He urged couples to practice chastity or use “natural family planning,” a method in which women monitor their menstrual cycles and abstain from sex when they are fertile.

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