ROME, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Pope Francis suggested Thursday contraceptives could be used to prevent transmission of the Zika virus, which is possibly linked to rare birth defects, despite the church's stance against most kinds of birth control.
The pope, answering questions on a flight from Mexico to Rome, said contraception could be the "lesser of two evils" for women concerned with contracting the mosquito-borne illness that may be associated with a rise in microcephaly, especially in Central and South America.
Francis said abortion is an "absolute evil" and should be avoided even if there is a risk a baby will be born with the birth defect that is characterized by a small head and brain and severe developmental delays.
In making the announcement, Francis pointed to Pope Paul VI 's decision to allow African nuns at risk for being raped to use contraception.
"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."
The virus is most commonly spread through mosquitos but has also been found to spread through sexual contact and blood transfusions.