Setting the Record Straight About Zika and Contraception

COMMENTARY: Even if a definitive connection is made between the virus and birth defects such as microcephaly, contraception isn’t an effective or moral solution.

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There has been a lot said about the Zika virus in the past few weeks, including certain comments from the Vatican (Western, 2016). On the basis of the evidence available pertaining to Zika, viruses in general, contraceptives and condom use and their consequences — I strongly object and feel a moral obligation to clarify there is absolutely no basis for the use of condoms or any form of contraception in the case of the Zika virus.

I wish to share some information and resources that will shine badly needed light on this subject, including an email from the American Association for Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) and other research and findings from the scientific community.

Below is the email the AAPLOG sent its members regarding the Zika virus, microcephaly and abortion. The emphasis is mine, and the email is reproduced with permission:

“A mosquito-borne virus discovered in 1947 and found throughout the tropics is being used now as a wedge to force abortion legalization worldwide. Yet the association between Zika virus and cases of microcephaly in Brazil has not been clearly demonstrated (Petersen et al., 2016). In fact, the increase in microcephaly cases in Brazil predates the introduction of Zika virus (CBCNews, 2016Soares de Araújo et al., 2016).

“And a majority of the cases of microcephaly in Brazil are not associated with Zika infection. Of interest, in Colombia, where 25,645 cases of Zika virus have been reported by the Ministry of Health, and approximately 3,100 cases were in pregnant women, no increase in microcephaly has been reported. ACOG has issued a compendium of useful links on Zika and published very reasonable guidelines

“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] recommendations are for the pregnant mother infected with Zika to receive high-risk care, not killing of the unborn. It is scientifically irresponsible and a clear abuse of power for the U.N. HCHR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] to use the Zika virus as an excuse to force sovereign nations to overturn their laws protecting unborn human beings. AAPLOG joins with Congressman [Blake] Farenthold in calling on the UNHCHR to revise or retract the recent statement and the abuse of power displayed by urging abortion on sovereign nations who protect human life.”

If a direct relationship is confirmed between the Zika virus (which is rarely deadly, CDC, 2016) and microcephaly, this wouldn’t be the first viral infection to have been associated with psychopathological problems. Such infection is potentially associated with inflammatory changes that take place as a response to the virus — ultimately causing changes to neurotransmitter systems essential in early development — and may subsequently potentially predispose the fetus to neuropathology (Bechter, 2013; Boksa, 2008; Crow, 1978; Ludlow et al., 2016; Mufaddel et al., 2014).

Some evidence even implicates viral infections in adulthood with adult psychological pathologies (Toovey et al. 2011). While not confirmed, it is even proposed that encephalitis lethargica, which followed shortly after the great flu epidemic of 1918, may have been linked to infection with the flu. 


Contraceptive Use

In such short space, it isn’t possible to do justice to all of the significant changes and problems contraceptives cause in women, both physiologically and psychologically. Thus, I limit myself to the following considerations: 

  • Scientific literature indicates that women using hormonal birth control enjoy sex less (Smith et al, 2014).
  • Contraceptives also disrupt the physical aspect of relationship formation (e.g. Havlicek & Roberts, 2009; Roberts et al., 2008), as well as the integrity of social structure: “The availability of oral contraception shifted this negative relationship to a new, higher level of divorce rates during the late-1960s and early-1970s” (Nunley & Zietz).
  • Oral contraceptive use has also been associated with an increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer, especially with use before first full-term pregnancy in parous women (Kahlenborn, et al., 2006; Romieu et al., 1990). Additionally, contraceptives act as abortifacients: The Yuzpe regimen (high-dose ethinyl estradiol with high-dose levonorgestrel) and Plan B (high-dose levonorgestrel alone) likely act at times by causing a post-fertilization effect, regardless of when in the menstrual cycle they are used (Kahlenborn et al., 2002). 
  • Further negative consequences include the effects on the female genital tract secretions and the immuno-protective properties of these secretions (Moalem & Reidenberg, 2009; Shust et al., 2010), venous thrombosis (increased fivefold, compared with non-use (van Hylckama Vlieg, et al., 2009); thrombotic stroke and myocardial infarction (Lidegaard et al., 2012).

It is worth keeping in mind that while the CDC states, “Laboratory studies have shown that latex condoms provide an effective barrier against even the smallest STD pathogens” (“Condom Effectiveness,” 2013) — nevertheless, those states where condom use is most freely available also report the highest levels of STDs. The problem is the mentality that is coexistent with condom use. Moreover, the CDC has reported a 2% failure rate in condoms (“1998 Guidelines for Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” 1998), and its website states abstinence is “the most reliable way to avoid infection” (“How You Can Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” 2016).

Many may also remember the outcry against Pope Benedict for opposing the use of condoms as a moral or effective method for preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa. The medical journal Lancet published articles that exchanged views on the subject (e.g. Ciantia, et al. 2008; Martinez-Gonzalez & de Irala, 2008). Standing out, however, was the following quote:

“Studies from leading scientific journals show that the major factor in the decrease of HIV prevalence in Uganda was the reduction in casual, multi-partner sex: the B of ABC. In Uganda, Kenya and Zambia, increases in abstinence behaviors have been associated with falls in HIV prevalence. All successful stories in Africa have been preceded by declines in casual and premarital sex, generally registered 5-6 years before the evidence of decline. The Catholic Church, along with many others, has promoted exactly this type of behavior” (Ciantia, et al. 2008).

While the CDC touts New York City’s condom distribution, launched in 2007, as one of the “Examples of Successful Condom Distribution Programs” (“Condom Distribution as a Structural Level Intervention,” 2015), the number of people reportedly living with AIDS has continued to increase every year since 2007 (“Data & Statistics: HIV/AIDS Annual Surveillance Statistics,” 2016). Strikingly interesting and hidden behind the fallacy of “safer” sex and the false sense of security that is subsequently promoted — as evident, for example, in the case of the New York City condom program — are the percentages of those reporting more than one sexual partner in the 12 months prior to being surveyed and the significantly large percentage of those still not using condoms, despite having actually picked up a free condom (Burke et al., 2009).

It’s my hope that the above information will help readers to understand the solution regarding preventing sexually transmitted diseases and the possible harm such diseases can cause unborn children — even in the case of a virus like Zika — is what the Church has always taught: abstinence and self-control.


Stephen Sammut, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and currently an

associate professor of psychology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.