How the Christian Right’s Sex Hang-Ups Turned Zika into a Bigger Crisis

microcephaly 3God may have created the Zika virus, but the Religious Right has turned it into a devastating epidemic of brain damage.

Zika could have been an ordinary epidemic like the ever-changing influenza that emerges each winter and spreads across the Northern Hemisphere with sad but rare complications. But the Religious Right’s antagonism to birth control and abortion (and honest conversation about sex in general) has transformed the Zika epidemic into a nightmare that will devastate lives for an entire generation.

In the absence of pregnancy, Zika isn’t usually a big deal. Only one in five people who contract Zika experience symptoms, and those who do mostly feel like they’ve gotten the flu. This is not to say Zika never does lasting harm to adults, just that—like the flu—those cases appear to be rare.

The difference, as most people now know, is that getting Zika while pregnant is really, really bad. The virus attacks the fetal nervous system, eating brain structures that have already developed and blocking development of others. As affected babies grow older, they fall farther behind.  Even babies that look normal may be damaged for life. Unlike the flu, when it comes to Zika, pregnancy prevention or timing is everything.

Three Ways to Rapidly Safeguard Families

Even if Zika spreads across its potential range of 41 states, a quick and targeted response could make lasting harm rare, at least within U.S. borders. The solution is simple and relatively cheap, but it’s stuff that the sex-obsessed, patriarchy-protecting Religious Right has been opposing for decades:

  • Information. Launch a huge public education campaign so that all couples know how to prevent mistimed or unwanted pregnancy and can delay parenthood till the time is safe. Currently a third of pregnancies globally and almost half in the U.S. are accidents, with some of the highest rates where Zika-carrying mosquitos live.
  • Contraception. Make state-of-the-art birth control available free of charge, including the very best IUDs and implants, which drop the accidental pregnancy rate below 1 in 500. (With the Pill that’s 1 in 11; with condoms 1 in 6; with the rhythm method its closer to 1 in 4.)
  • Abortion. Ensure that couples who discover microcephaly and other fetal defects in utero can, if they prefer, abort a diseased pregnancy and start over. Millions of healthy children exist in this world only because their parents receive the mercy of a fresh start (like I did).

Each of these steps is easier and cheaper than trying to eradicate mosquitos or develop and distribute a vaccine–both of which are moving forward. With existing contraceptive knowledge and technologies, birth defects from Zika could drop to near zero. The problem is not a lack of means; it’s a lack of will brought on by religious teaching that generate resistance and controversy around anything that has to do with sex, gender roles, or reproduction.

You Reap What You Sow

No matter what, tragic birth defects from Zika would have hit some families as the virus spread out of Africa where it is endemic (and where most women appear to have immunity before they reach reproductive age). But without relentless promotion of ignorance and falsehood by priests and pastors—without anti-contraception campaigning by the Vatican in particular—birth defects from Zika would be a small fraction of what humanity now faces.

Religious conservatives claim to love women and babies, especially unborn babies; but this claim is pure self-deception by biblical standards. The writer of Matthew warns of men who claim to speak for God but actually don’t. He says, “By their fruit ye shall know them.”

What are the fruits of conservative Christian hostility toward judicious, planned, intentional parenthood? For generations, humanity has been battered by preventable harms from ill-timed and unwanted pregnancy: children bearing children in hopeless poverty, education foregone, abuse and neglect, family conflict triggered by stress, armed conflict triggered by population pressures and resource depletion; starvation, illness and death . . .

If the Church hadn’t thrown its wealth and weight against family planning programs in the 1960’s and every decade since, who knows how different life on Earth might look right now. Zika merely ups the ante.

And the conservative Christian solution to it all? More prayer and less sex.

If They Actually Loved Babies

Actions speak louder than pious words. If God’s self-proclaimed messengers actually loved women and children more than they love power and tradition, they would admit they have been wrong and would do what’s best for healthy families:

  • Stop using the political clout of the Church to make birth control expensive and hard to get—especially for poor people and those at risk of Zika.
  • Stop goading conservative politicians to waste millions trying to defend bogus anti-abortion laws, and work instead to make abortion less necessary.
  • Stop teaching young people that they should “let go and let God” determine how many kids they have (whether infected or starving or not). Start teaching that the ability to plan our families is a precious gift.
  • Stop pretending that vows of abstinence work for more than a few odd individuals. Start providing real information about healthy, respectful, responsible pleasure and intimacy.
  • Stop forcing doctors and nurses to follow anti-contraception, anti-abortion religious directives bordering on malpractice; and instead ensure that hospitals and clinics controlled by religious institutions provide model family planning care.

The Zika wave will sweep over the Americas, and as immunity grows rates of infection will likely drop off. In that case, the suffering caused by Church hostility to sexuality education and family planning will drop back to more familiar levels. But right now Zika presents a rare opportunity for religious leaders to show that they are not, as they often appear, so busy defending dogma that they have become morally bankrupt.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
This entry was posted in Cognitive Science and Christianity, Musings & Rants: Christianity, Reproductive Health, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to How the Christian Right’s Sex Hang-Ups Turned Zika into a Bigger Crisis

  1. Pingback: Morally Bankrupt Christian Sex Hang-Ups Turned Zika into a Brain Damage Crisis — | MyDoorIsAjar

  2. john zande says:

    Here in Brazil, the anti-abortion crowd are working overtime, thrawting any open debate on loosening the abortion laws. It’s sheer madness.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. tildeb says:

    Religious belief given privilege and status in the public domain? What’s the harm?

    Well, to start with….


  4. ZB says:

    This whole Zika thing is something I haven’t managed to muster up enough enthusiasm to actually research for myself. I keep seeing headlines about how it causes brain damage to developing fetuses, and then I see people (mostly christian and/or homeschool and/or anti-vaccination and/or essential-oil-loving) posting about how it doesn’t cause brain damage. But what I don’t understand is why that crowd seems so invested in the idea that this virus doesn’t cause brain damage? I mean, I can’t imagine why anyone would make that up. But why does it bother them so much? Is it because they don’t want people having abortions if they contract Zika? so they insist Zika doesn’t cause any kind of damage?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Karen Garst says:

    Incredibly well researched article as always. Religion must end.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. rorys2013 says:

    In my understanding the essential root of this, and other problems, lies in the mistaken belief that there is a God out there somewhere separate from ourselves. I am a Quaker and my inner experience is that there is something beyond what words can utter that is greater than myself and it is within me nowhere else. The belief that there is a God out there is false and from false beliefs only troubles can flow as is illustrated in Valerie’s post above.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lowell Bushey says:

    Hi, Valerie,

    IMO, there’s another aspect to the Zika response, i.e., the religious right’s paranoid obsession with defunding Planned Parenthood. If one’s objective is preventing pregnancy, there isn’t an organization anywhere in the world that’s more capable!

    Instead of a sensible and sane response to the Zika problem, the (mostly Republican) Southern states have chosen to focus on mosquito eradication, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and potentially causing major environmental damage.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. says:

    Did you read that thousands of bees were killed due to spraying mosquitos?

    Sent from my iPhone



    • So awful. If they would simply provide birth control so that couples could time pregnancies, then maybe people wouldn’t be so freaked out that they would be carpet bombing with poison.

      Liked by 1 person

    • In the long run, it’s not even clear that trying to suppress mosquitos by spraying with Naled even works. “Impact of naled (Dibrom 14) on the mosquito vectors of eastern equine encephalitis virus This study reports on analyses of 11 years (1984-94) of mosquito collection data from Cicero and Toad Harbor swamps in relation to applications of naled. Naled applications were successful in achieving short-term reductions in mosquito abundance. However, despite repetitive applications, populations of the primary vector of EEE virus, Cs. melanura, have increased 15-fold at Cicero Swamp. Preventive applications had no noticeable impact on the enzootic amplification of EEE virus, and isolations of virus following preventive applications have resulted in additional spraying. The possibility that applications of naled contributed to increased populations of Cs. melanura discredits the rationale that preventive applications of naled reduce the risk of EEE.”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. dave henry says:

    Another problem is that the Zika scare seems to be a smokescreen for the pesticide-saturation of Brazil. Glysophate is the elephant in the room possibly causing a lot of the birth defects being blamed on the virus:

    Liked by 1 person

    • rorys2013 says:

      Absolutely that is perhaps the real reason for the hyped-up Zika scare. In the pursuit of profits anything goes, literally anything. As far as I know Monsanto has never shown any interest in anything other than making money.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. jennny says:

    I know several handicapped adults here in the UK and think their parents are ‘saints’ because caring for their complex needs has completely taken over – and drained – the parents’ lives for years. And this is a country with universal access to the latest therapies, medications, support of many kinds. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be poor and give birth to a very handicapped child in one of the many places in the world where there is ZERO help, support or medical care and no way to alleviate your beloved child’s constant suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

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