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'Avoiding a pregnancy is not an absolute evil,' pope says on Zika crisis

FRANCE 24 screengrab | Pope Francis talks to journalists aboard the papal plane as he returns to Rome

Pope Francis hinted Thursday that the Church could exceptionally relax its ban on contraception for women at risk of contracting the Zika virus. He also had a few strong words for US Republican hopeful Donald Trump.

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Talking to journalists aboard the papal plane on his return to Rome from Mexico, Francis insisted that "abortion is not a lesser evil, it is a crime" but added: "Avoiding a pregnancy is not an absolute evil."

The 79-year-old pontiff recalled that one of his predecessors, Paul VI (1963-1978) had authorised nuns working in Africa to use contraceptives in light of a high risk of them being raped by soldiers.

"We must not confuse the evil consisting of avoiding a pregnancy with abortion," Francis said. "Abortion is not a theological problem. It is a human problem, medical. One person is killed to save another. It is evil in itself, it is not a religious evil, it is a human evil. On the contrary, avoiding a pregnancy and, in the cases of Paul VI which I have cited, it was clear.”

The United Nations and aid organisations have urged countries hit by the virus to ensure women have access to contraception to reduce the risk of infection and the right to abortion should they decide to terminate a pregnancy.

Many Latin American countries outlaw abortion or allow it only if the mother's life is in danger.

Donald Trump is ‘not Christian’

Francis, who had prayed at the US border for Mexican immigrants who had lost their lives there, also weighed into the race for the US Republican nomination.

Asked about Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out of the US, Francis said: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel."

Not having heard Trump's border plans independently, Francis said he'd "give him the benefit of the doubt”. But he added: "I'd just say that this man is not Christian if he said it this way."

Trump has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border from Texas to California, and to expel 11 million people who are in the country illegally if elected president.

Trump, a Presbyterian, last week criticised Francis' plans to pray at the border, saying the move was ill-informed and showed Francis to be a political figure being exploited by the Mexican government.

"I don't think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico," Trump said in an interview with Fox News. "I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They're making a fortune, and we're losing."

On Thursday, he responded to the Pope's comments during a campaign stop in Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

"No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith," he said. "They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant."

Trump also invoked the Islamic State (IS) group, saying that if it attacks the Vatican, "I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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