Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
Amid growing fears that the Zika virus epidemic sweeping Latin America could result in a surge of children born with birth defects, the Vatican repudiated efforts by UN agencies and other international organizations to call for the liberalization of abortion laws in the region.
On Feb. 16, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations released a statement that acknowledged the potential health threats posed by the epidemic, which the World Health Organization described as an international "emergency." But the Holy See said concerns about a possible link between transmission of the virus and a potentially serious birth defect did not justify the promotion of abortion and abortion-inducing drugs as a humane response.
"We are deeply concerned by the recent call by some government officials, as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the liberalization of abortion laws and access to abortifacients as a means to prevent the birth of children with birth defects," read the statement, which was released after a briefing on the Zika virus that was convened by the president of the United Nations' Economic and Social Council.
"Not only is increased access to abortion and abortifacients an illegitimate response to this crisis, but since it terminates the life of a child it is fundamentally not preventative. Instead, the promotion of such a radical policy is the confirmation of a failure of the international community to stop the spread of the disease and to develop and provide the medical treatment pregnant women and their children need, to avoid the development of birth defects or to mitigate their effects and carry the pregnancy to term," the statement continued.
Two weeks ago, the WHO reported rising suspicions that the transmission of the Zika virus from infected pregnant mothers to their unborn children could be responsible for a reported increase in the number of infants born with microcephaly. That condition may include smaller than normal brains and head size, and can result in mild to severe neurological disorders.
International Planned Parenthood Federation and other pro-abortion groups have called for the loosening of restrictions on abortion in the region, to prevent the birth of infants with birth defects.
"Fight Zika virus with better access to contraception and safe abortion as well as anti-mosquito measures," says IPPF, in one message posted on the oraganization's website.
But the Holy See drew the public's attention to the story of a Brazilian journalist born with microcephaly, Ana Carolina Caceres.
"She has spoken out against the misinformation and fear surrounding the condition that is leading some to think that those with microcephaly, like Ana Carolina, are better off not living than living and contributing to our society as she does.
"Let us keep Ana Carolina and her testimony in mind as we deliberate upon the proper way to respond to the crisis. Regardless of the connection to the Zika virus, it is a fact of human existence that some children develop conditions like microcephaly, and that these children deserve to be protected and cared for throughout their lives, in accordance with our obligation to safeguard all human life."
In a recent interview with the BBC, Ana Carolina Caceres challenged the misinformation about her condition that has fueled public anxiety, and urged worried mothers to stay the courtse of their pregnancy:
“I survived, as do many others with microcephaly. Our mothers did not abort. That is why we exist.”
The full statement is here.