Forget Trump. The Pope’s surprise announcement on birth control is much bigger.


This week, Pope Francis said Donald Trump is “not Christian” and Donald Trump said that he didn’t like the pope. In other news, the spiritual head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics also just gave a begrudging endorsement to birth control used in limited cases.

As women in Central and South America continue to face uncertainty about the risk of a severe birth defect associated with the Zika virus, Francis said Thursday that birth control could be considered the “lesser of two evils” for women concerned about becoming pregnant.

“Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil,” Francis said. “In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also ask doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.”

This isn’t unprecedented—the church has made narrow exceptions for the use of certain contraceptives before, like in 2010 when Pope Benedict said that condoms could be used to prevent the spread of HIV.

But it’s still a change in tone that brings the pope ever so slightly more in line with the majority of Catholics who have already used birth control at some point in their lives and think it’s totally moral. In fact, the church grappled with the question of birth control back in 1963 and basically came to the same conclusions.

It was more than 50 years ago that the church convened a papal commission on marriage and reproduction to consider its position on contraception. And while it may come as a surprise to many, that commission concluded that the church should embrace it. As a report from a group called Catholics for Choice noted about the vote, “30 of the 35 commission’s lay members, 15 of the 19 theologians and 9 of 12 bishops [voted] that the teaching be changed.”

Nevertheless, the church held its position against birth control. And Pope Francis, despite a small step today, has shown himself willing to do the same in almost all cases—no matter what that means for the lives and health of women around the globe.

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