Promoting Abortion Is Not Protecting Women's Health, Vatican Leaders Say

(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)A protester with her mouth taped over with the word "life" stands in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Roman Catholic Church says it's committed to both pro-life issues and protecting women's dignity and health, but is vehemently opposed to the promotion of abortion and contraception through a "one-dimensional" view of reproductive health.

"When adopting the current Sustainable Development Goals, the Holy See rejected a one-dimensional interpretation of reproductive health requiring an ideological promotion of contraception and abortion," said Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, earlier this week at a seminar in Rome on health and sexuality.

Turkson insisted that the Vatican is committed both to defending human life and the dignity of women, noting that technology based on science provides humanity with tremendous "power over itself," and "we need to work very hard together to make sure that it is used wisely."

Questions about the Catholic stance on abortion and contraception have swirled around the fast-spreading Zika virus in Latin America, where much of the population is Catholic, but has been advised by health officials to use contraception in order to reduce risk of spreading the disease.

During his tour of Mexico in February, Pope Francis said that using contraception "isn't an absolute evil" in fighting the disease, which causes birth defects in babies.

While the Vatican normally speaks out against contraception, Francis pointed to other cases, such as Pope Paul VI allowing nuns with a high risk of suffering rape in the Congo in the 1960s to use contraception to avoid pregnancy.

Francis affirmed, however, that abortion should never be considered when tackling the disease.

"Abortion is never the lesser evil, it's a crime," Francis said. "It's to discard one to save another one. It's what Mafia does; it's a crime, an absolute evil."

Francis' more flexible stance on contraception seemingly clashed with what Catholic bishops in Brazil have said, however.

"Contraceptives are not a solution," Bishop Leonard Ulrich Steiner, the secretary general of the National Council of Bishops of Brazil, said back in January. "There is not a single change in the Church's position."

Turkson argued at the conference that the Vatican remains committed to advances in science that defend and support the needs faced by women and families in "human and effective ways."

He further praised the Reproductive Health Research Institute, one of the co-sponsors of the event, noting that its work "is a testament to a lifetime of careful research and clinical care in order to provide solutions for the suffering of so many women, both in their health and in the management and use of their fertility."

Other co-sponsors included the World Youth Alliance, which was awarded a Papal Foundation grant in 2015, reflecting Francis' recognition of projects that help poor and defenseless people.