Brazilian Abortion Case Continues To Cause Controversy

Although the Catholic Church is standing strong with the decision to excommunicate the Brazilian medical team that performed an abortion on a 9-year-old rape victim, many have come forward with dissenting opinions.

On March 4th, a medical team from Recife, Brazil, performed an abortion on a 9-year-old girl. She was pregnant with twins after being raped, allegedly by her stepfather. Police say that the abuse had been going on since she was 6. Abortion is illegal under Brazilian law, but it is possible to get a judge's approval in cases of rape or when the mother's life is in danger, both of which applied in this case. The girl's doctors, her family, and the court were all in agreement that this was the safest way to deal with the pregnancy. The Catholic Church disagreed.

Archbishop Don Jose Cardoso Sobrinho (seen above left) swiftly excommunicated the entire medical team, along with the the girl's mother. Church law exempts minors from excommunication, so the girl was not included in the blanket condemnation of the medical procedure. They also chose not to excommunicate the stepfather. Sobrinho told Globo TV that "A graver act than (rape) is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life." As Hortense mentioned over the weekend, a senior Vatican official has spoken out in support of Sobrinho's actions, and said: "Life must always be protected, and the attack on the Brazilian Church is unjustified."

The Church's decision has sparked an international debate on the ethics of abortion, and inspired a great deal of criticism of the Catholic Church. The Brazilian Minister of Health, Jose Gomes Temporao, publicly acknowledged the work of the medical team that performed the abortion at a national convention on women's health. He called their work "brilliant," and argued that doctors must put law before religion: "The question posed is very simple. There is a Brazilian law which states that a pregnancy can be interrupted in case of rape. It is legitimate for the church to have its dogmas, but these dogmas must not be imposed on society as a whole." President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has also spoken out against the excommunications. "In this case, the medical profession was more right than the church," he said.

Some are even arguing that the Church's position on abortion is losing it followers, and weakening their message. Beatriz Galli, the policy associate for Ipas Brasil, an NGO that works for women's rights, said: "In this case, most people support the doctors and the family. Everything they did was legal and correct... But the Church takes these positions that are so rigid that it ends up weakened. It is very intolerant, and that intolerance is going to scare off more and more followers." In the past few years, Brazilian devotion to the Catholic Church has already begun to decline. This trend is also visible in America, where the young adults are steadily becoming increasingly less religious than their elders. Dr. Olimpio Moraes, who was involved with the pregnancy termination procedure on the 9 year old girl, says he is thankful that the archbishop excommunicated him because the resulting controversy will draw attention to Brazil's restrictive abortion laws. He hopes that the public outrage over this girl's case will lead to greater reproductive freedom for Brazilian women, who are "victimized by Brazil's ban on abortion." This is tragically true: out of the 1 million women to undergo illegal abortions in Brazil each year, 250,000 need further treatment for complications resulting from botched back alley abortions.

Excommunicated Doctor Hailed For Abortion On Child Rape Victim [CNN]
Nine-Year-Old's Abortion Outrages Brazil's Catholic Church [Time]

Related: The Young And The Godless [Andrew Sullivan]

Earlier: "She Is Very Small. Her Uterus Doesn't Have The Ability To Hold One, Let Alone Two Children.", Vatican Defends Brazilian Catholic Church After Excommunication Of Mother Of 9 Year Old Rape Victim