WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - President Obama is asking for $1.8 billion from Congress to fight the Zika virus, with some of that money going towards promoting contraception.
Federal money would go towards research and development of a vaccine — something normally financed by pharmaceutical companies. It would also go towards "education and prevention," including the distribution of contraceptives.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is pushing for the money to be granted as quickly as possible. "We also need to make sure that our nation's response to the virus includes increasing access to contraceptives for women in Zika-affected regions who choose to use them."
There have been several isolated cases in the United States, with most occurring in Texas, Florida and California, but it hasn't increased to anything close to the levels seen in South and Central America. Officials generally agree that it may not become a widespread problem here because of higher living standards.
Some are questioning if this will end up like the swine flu scare in which Obama had over $1 billion in federal money spent on vaccines that were never needed or distributed.
In Brazil alone over 1.5 million people contracted the virus. It has led to a 20-fold increase in the incidence of children born with microcephaly — over 3,500 children.
Spread by mosquitos, the virus exhibits symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. It usually goes away in a week, but it can have lasting effects on children in the womb, causing microcephaly — brain underdevelopment and an abnormally small head. Specialists from the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization (WHO) are finding traces of the virus in body fluids like sweat and saliva but haven't made a final conclusion as to whether it can be spread to others in that way.
The WHO is warning it can be spread from person to person by sexual intercourse and is cautioning people in affected areas to abstain or use contraception, even saying, "Women who wish to terminate a pregnancy due to a fear of microcephaly should have access to safe abortion services to the full extent of the law."
As a result, people are demanding the Church reconsider its teaching on abortion and contraception. The dissident group Catholics for Choice is asking the Pope to change the Church's teaching that abortion and artificial contraception are intrinsic evils. Catholics for Choice supports abortion up to the birth of the child and questions the traditional Catholic understanding of sexuality and the role of women.
"Women's decisions around pregnancy, including the decision to end a pregnancy, need to be respected, not condemned," the group states.
The virus was first discovered 50 years ago in Uganda, Africa, in monkeys. It spread to children but wasn’t linked to birth defects until recently.