Facts and Values: Science and Advocacy: The Zika Virus and Women's Rights
|CDC: Countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission|
The Zika virus spreading rapidly through Latin America and headlines has also made it's way into religious controversy.
Catholics for Choice, an advocacy group, founded in 1973, has harnessed scientific findings from the CDC to request the Pope reverse the Church's stance on birth control. Several political issues are wrapped up together with the scientific fact.
Of grave concern with the Zika virus is the potential for fetal microcephaly. The CDC writes,
Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant. Knowledge of the link between Zika and birth defects is evolving, but until more is known, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women. Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus is spreading. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
Using this potential link between the virus and the brain condition, Catholics for Choice, invoke their perceived injustices in the the rights of women to access birth control especially in El Salvador. From a press release on their website,
When you travel tomorrow to Latin America, we ask you, Francis, to make it clear to your brother bishops that good Catholics can follow their conscience and use birth control to protect themselves and their partners. Make it clear to the Catholic hierarchy that women’s decisions around pregnancy, including the decision to end a pregnancy, need to be respected, not condemned.
“Pope Francis has an opportunity to reverse a longstanding injustice on this trip,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “If he wants a church that lifts up the poor, he must remove the birth control ban that falls so harshly on the women of Mexico and Central and South America, and allow women to make a decision about their pregnancies.”
“In El Salvador, women are imprisoned if they are even suspected of having an abortion, while the Catholic hierarchy continues its heartless ban on birth control. We need Pope Francis to stand up for the vulnerable women here, who deserve to make their own decisions about pregnancy,” commented Rosa Hernandez of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir El Salvador, who co-signed the ad in El Diario de Hoy.
The organizations ad running in several international papers concludes with a plea to the Pope to "not play politics with the lives of women."
Yet the whole scenario is political: invoking scientific facts to support policy change, appealing to an individual and symbol of great political power (the Pope), international politics, human rights, and of course a classic political symbol of women, motherhood and children.
This is not to say anything about rights or wrongs of the scenario. That I will leave that for others active in this area of work.
Instead I seek only to use the case as an example of the need for social values to make facts meaningful; and likewise, the role of advocacy in connecting scientific facts to a policy context.