As the Centers for Disease Control said April 13 that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other birth defects, pro-life leaders expressed concern that the assessment will be used to promote abortion.

A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded, “a causal relationship exists between prenatal Zika virus infection and microcephaly and other serious brain anomalies.” The study examined, among other factors, “Zika virus infection at times during prenatal development that were consistent with the defects observed” and the identification of Zika virus in brain tissue of affected unborn children and infants. “This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC.

In February 2016, the World Health Organization declared the virus’s spread a public health emergency. The Zika virus is spread primarily through infected mosquitoes. Microcephaly is a birth defect that causes babies to be born with severely undersized heads and neurological problems.

Abortion advocates have used the Zika outbreak to push Latin American countries to loosen abortion restrictions. UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that abortion and contraception laws in affected areas — many of which are predominantly Catholic — should be reviewed “in line with human rights obligations to ensure the right to health for all in practice.”

“Upholding human rights is essential to an effective public health response and this requires that governments ensure women, men and adolescents have access to comprehensive and affordable quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, without discrimination,” Zeid said. According to a news release from Zeid’s office, “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services include contraception … and safe abortion services to the full extent of the law.”

“Naturally the Zika virus is a cause for concern, and we call upon governments and medical professionals to continue to develop appropriate treatments and interventions. But in no way does this justify recourse to abortion,” said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life USA. “The child in the womb is a patient too, and killing one’s patient is never an appropriate response.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center wrote in February, “governments and public health experts may be justified in recommending that married couples delay childbearing temporarily in view of the great number of apparent risks associated with contracting Zika during pregnancy. Married couples should prayerfully assess any such recommendations.”

A longer version of this article originally appeared April 14 at LifeSiteNews and is used with permission.