As the Pope Endorses Contraceptives, Families Struggle to Raise Children With Microcephaly

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At the tail end of his trip to Mexico, Pope Francis addressed the Zika virus epidemic being linked to microcephaly – a neurological condition that causes babies to be born with small heads and underdeveloped brains. As the virus spreads across the Americas, many Latin American countries told women to avoid getting pregnant, while failing to provide impoverished women with access to contraceptives or family planning information.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, asserted that he does not believe abortion is the answer for these women. “It is to kill someone in order to save another. This is what the Mafia does,” he says, according to CNN. “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.”

It’s not the first time a Pope has okayed the use of contraceptives. In the 1960s, Pope Paul VI approved contraception for nuns living in the Belgian Congo, so that they couldn’t become pregnant in cases of rape. CNN hypothesizes that the Pope’s comment could “have broad implications for health care providers” around the world.

Women currently lack or have limited access to contraception and family planning information in Latin America, and a Brazil facility for children and young adults with severe disabilities may paint a picture of what could happen if women continue to be denied contraception and other recourses.

32-year-old Fabiane Lopes will be raising her two-month old daughter Valentina Vitoria on her own. At 26 weeks, Fabiane learned that her daughter was not developing normally, NPR reports. “When I told my boyfriend that the baby had problems, he said he didn’t want to know anything about it,” she says.

He wanted to get an abortion – though it is illegal in Brazil – but she didn’t want to, so he walked out on her. This isn’t unique to Fabiane. Vera Lucia Giacometti has seen this happen repeatedly in her 16-year career as a psychologist. For mothers who end up on their own with little government support, Giacometti says, it often becomes too much to handle.

When the children affected by Zika get older, Giacometti believes that many mothers will place them into state care. She currently works at a facility where almost half of the 38 children have microcephaly. She has seen firsthand how difficult life is for children with microcephaly – like 11-year-old Carlos Felipe Alves, who is unable to walk because limb deformities are common effect of microcephaly.