Performing an abortion is a criminal act, but using contraceptives to avoid pregnancy may be justified in extreme cases, Pope Francis said Thursday.
The pontiff was responding to a question on whether it was right to use contraceptives or have an abortion to avoid the spread of the Zika virus, which affects unborn babies.
"Abortion is not a lesser evil. It is a crime. It is finishing off a person to save another person. It is what the mafia does. It is a crime, it is an absolute evil," Francis said in an in-flight press conference on the way back from Mexico.
"On the other hand, avoiding a pregnancy is not an absolute evil, and in some cases [...] this [is] clear," he added, recalling that Pope Paul VI told nuns at risk of rape in Africa that they could use contraceptives.
"Furthermore, I would urge doctors to do everything they can to find vaccines against these couple of mosquitoes that carry this disease. We have to work on this," the pope said in reference to the Zika outbreak.
A transcript of the pope's remarks was published by the Vatican.