Brazil's Catholic Church rejects calls to allow abortion for Zika birth defects

Ana Beatriz, a baby girl with microcephaly, celebrates her fourth months in Lagoa do Carro, Pernambuco, Brazil on Monday.
Ana Beatriz, a baby girl with microcephaly, celebrates her fourth months in Lagoa do Carro, Pernambuco, Brazil on Monday.PHOTO: EPA

BRASILIA (AFP) - The Catholic Church in Brazil on Wednesday rejected calls supported by the United Nations to allow abortion in cases of the birth defect microcephaly.

Abortion is restricted in Latin America's biggest country to cases of rape, where the fetus has no brain, or where the mother's life is in danger.

The UN human rights office has called on countries where the Zika virus is thought to be linked to a rash of microcephaly cases to relax laws and allow pregnant women with Zika to terminate.

But Auxiliary Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, secretary general of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference, rejected the argument.

"Microcephaly has been occurring in Brazil for years. They are taking advantage of this moment to reintroduce the abortion topic," he was quoted as saying in the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper.

"Abortion leads to eugenics, the practice of selecting perfect people," he said.

Brazil has registered 404 confirmed cases of microcephaly, where the baby is born with an abnormally small head and brain, since October last year. Another 3,670 cases are not yet confirmed.

Scientists say that the Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, appears to cause the condition in fetuses born to mothers who have been infected.

In Brazil, a group of activists is petitioning the Supreme Court for a change in the country's restrictive abortion laws.

However, Brasilia's archbishop, Sergio da Rocha, said society should "value life in whatever state it's in." "Less quality of life doesn't mean less right to live," he said in the capital.

An estimated million illegal abortions are carried out each year in Brazil.

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