February 28, 2016


WASHINGTON (Feb. 18, 2016) – Earlier today, Pope Francis commented on the use of contraception by those in areas affected by the Zika virus. Zika has been associated with birth defects prompting health agencies to advise that pregnancy be avoided during the outbreak. However, the Catholic Church has opposed the use of artificial contraception; Catholicism is the dominant religion in Central and South America.

Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil,” Pope Francis reportedly said, opening the door contraception use.

The Pope’s comment “better reflects the reality” faced by women in Zika-affected areas, says health and human rights expert Ana S. Ayala, JD, LLM, at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

Ayala says, “Pope Francis’ remarks on contraception are a significant step forward for the Catholic Church. In condoning the use of contraceptives to avoid pregnancy in Zika-affected countries, his stance better reflects the reality that women, particularly poor women, face.

“Many countries in the Americas, where the Catholic Church has had tremendous influence, suffer from high rates of unplanned pregnancies and violence against women, as well asinadequate access to contraceptives, especially for those living in poverty and in rural communities.

“Access to contraceptives is vital to reducing unplannedpregnancies, and in turn, abortions.”

Ayala is director of the Global Health Law LL.M. Program. She has worked on a variety of global health law areas, including global health security, reproductive health, andhealth and human rights. She has trained legal, medical, and public health professionals from around the world.

Ayala is a native of Bolivia, one of the countries affected by the Zika virus.

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy. Its mission is to contribute to a more powerful and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the public’s health, using objective evidence as a measure. The O’Neill Institute seeks to advance scholarship, science, research, and teaching that will encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society to employ the law as a positive tool for enabling more people in the United States and throughout the world to lead healthier lives.