Dogma Before Reason: Catholic Church, Zika Virus and Abortion


All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

Thomas Paine


Vatican city

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Something strange was happening last August in the maternity wards of Recife, a seaside city perched on Brazil’s easternmost tip, where the country juts into the Atlantic.

“Doctors, pediatricians, neurologists, they started finding this thing we never had seen,” said Dr. Celina M. Turchi, an infectious diseases researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a prominent scientific institute in Brazil.

“Children with normal faces up to the eyebrows, and then you have no foreheads and very strange heads,” she recalled, referring to the condition known as microcephaly. “The doctors were saying, ‘Well, I saw four today,’ and, ‘Oh that’s strange, because I saw two.’”

Aside from their alarming appearance, many of the babies seemed healthy.

“They cried,” Dr. Turchi said. “They breast-fed well. They just didn’t seem to be ill.”

Doctors were stumped.

They did not know it then, but they were seeing the first swell of a horrifying wave. A little-known pathogen — the Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes — had been circulating in Brazil for at least a year. It would later become the chief suspect in the hunt to work out what had happened to those newborns.

There have been more than 4000 cases of microcephaly  in Brazil so far in the 20 Brazilian states, compared with 147 cases in 2014.

How can we prevent this grave tragedy of so many children being born with poorly developed brains and mental retardation?

“The advice of some governments to women to delay getting pregnant, ignores the reality that many women and girls simply cannot exercise control over whether or when or under what circumstances they become pregnant, especially in an environment where sexual violence is so common,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a Friday statement.

To those following the UN’s involvement in international abortion rights policy, this comes as no surprise. UN officials have consistently urged countries to lift restrictive bans on abortion, declaring that they breach human rights treaties.

The UN’s announcement comes a day after a judge in Brazil went against the country’s mainstream abortion policy by announcing he’ll allow women to end a pregnancy in cases of microcephaly.

Abortions are currently outlawed in Brazil, except for cases of rape, anencephaly (a more extreme version of microcephaly, where a baby often dies in infancy), or when the mother’s life is in danger. Some conservative lawmakers have even pushed to further regulate these exceptions.

“I know this is very difficult because the subject is new, requires thorough discussion, and a great deal of religious influences persists,” said Judge Coelho de Alcântara. “But my position is that abortion for microcephaly should be allowed.”

But, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, a top adviser to Pope Francis, has denounced the idea of “therapeutic abortions” — which are carried out because of fetal abnormalities — as a response to birth defects caused by the mosquito-borne Zika virus that is setting off alarms throughout Latin America.

Rodriguez’s comments, which came at Mass on Wednesday (Feb. 3) in the pilgrimage city of Suyapa, are some of the most direct from church leaders in the heavily Catholic region and may reflect a growing concern in the hierarchy about the ramifications of the public health debate over how to deal with the potential epidemic.

Although all forms of abortion are illegal in Honduras, Rodriguez said he was saddened to read a medical professional’s writing apparently in support of “therapeutic abortion,” which is one that is carried out if the life of the mother is in danger or if there is risk of fetal abnormality.

“We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion,” the cardinal said in his homily, according to Honduran media reports.

“Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist,” he said. “Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives.”

The Catholic Church does not seem to recognize reasonable exceptions to their pro-life stance.

It seems that despite all the propaganda that the Catholic Church has come a long way since the century of Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno, the Church is still putting its dogma and its control over the masses, above rationality and individual needs and rights and in this case the mothers, who will have to cope with all the challenges of microcephaly babies for the rest of their lives.

Beginning in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on charges including denial of several core Catholic doctrines (including Eternal Damnation, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and Transubstantiation). The Inquisition found him guilty and in 1600 he was burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori.

But, such power play to maintain or enhance their control and influence is not unique to the Catholic Church and may be the agenda of all organized religions.

More than 3,100 pregnant women are infected with the Zika virus in Colombia, the country’s president has said.

They are among the 25,645 cases reported nationwide so far, as the mosquito-borne disease continues to spread rapidly across the Americas.

President Juan Manuel Santos also projected that there could be up to 600,000 infections in 2016.

At present, there is no known treatment or vaccine for the Zika virus, which has been linked to microcephaly – a birth defect which can prevent the brains of fetuses from developing properly.

Brazilian health officials are dishing out some unusual advice these days: Don’t get pregnant.

That’s the message for would-be parents, especially in the country’s northeast, where there is the highest surge in newborn microcephaly cases.

“It’s a very personal decision, but at this moment of uncertainty, if families can put off their pregnancy plans, that’s what we’re recommending,” Angela Rocha, the pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Brazil’s hardest-hit state, told CNN.

One would hope that religious leaders of all faiths will leave these complex personal decisions to the mothers and the families and not play God by telling us that they know, what “God’s will” is in these complex situations.

This age of information is crying out for secularism, human rights, women rights and rationality as opposed to dogma and herd mentality and tribal loyalties.

Suggested Reading and Viewing

Is it Time for Organized Religion to Completely Get Out of the Business of State?

Book Review: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession

A Message of Compassion and Love from the Holy Bible

BBC 2 Debate – Has Human Rights achieved more than Religion? The Big Questions

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