SÃO PAULO – A court order allowing a 10-year-old to get an abortion in Brazil was “a heinous crime,” according to the president of the country’s bishops’ conference.
The story of the child, who became pregnant after being repeatedly raped by her uncle, has shocked Brazilians.
The Brazilian press reported last week that the girl, who lives in the city of São Mateus, in Espírito Santo State, went to a local hospital with a relative on August 8 and the doctors confirmed that she was 22 weeks pregnant. She told the police that her uncle had been abusing her since she was 6.
Although the Brazilian legislation authorizes hospitals to carry out abortions for victims of rape, the girl’s case was taken to court. A few days later, a local judge gave the family permission to terminate her pregnancy, but the hospital where the procedure was to take place then refused to do it, claiming that it doesn’t have a protocol to perform an abortion on a girl who was so far along in her pregnancy.
She was then taken out of the state, accompanied by a social worker and a relative.
On Sunday, the far-right activist Sara Winter (her real name is Sara Giromini) revealed the girl’s identity on social media, and also named the hospital where the abortion took place.
Winter worked in right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights from April to November 2019 and was recently arrested for taking part in “antidemocratic activities” for advocating the closure of the supreme court and national legislature to help further Bolsonaro’s agenda.
She asked her followers to “pray and kneel on the ground” after the abortion took place, according to the UOL news website. It’s not clear how she obtained the information on the girl’s identity.
Dozens of Evangelical and Catholic activists gathered in front of the hospital, praying and calling the doctor who authorized the procedure a “murderer.” Some of them tried to break into the building. The protestors were accompanied by Evangelical politicians.
Video footage of the protests show there was a counterdemonstration by a feminist group.
The case added to the already fierce political polarization in the country.
Winter’s intervention and the scenes of Christian protestors trying to invade the hospital linked the pro-life campaign with Bolsonaro’s political agenda, with the counterdemonstrators being associated with the left-wing opposition.
On Monday, Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo Belo Horizonte, the president of National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), released a short statement in which he called the case a “challenging and complex existential situation which fatally wounded childhood and appalled the country.”
“It’s lamentable to witness those who represent the Law and the State with the mission to defend life deciding for the death of a child of only five months, whose mother is a 10-year-old girl. Those are two heinous crimes,” De Azevedo continued.
“Sexual violence is terrible, but the violence of the abortion is unjustifiable, considering all existing resources available to guarantee the lives of both children,” the statement read.
Bishop Ricardo Hoepers of Rio Grande, president of CNBB’s Pastoral Episcopal Commission for Life and Family, also published an extensive critique of the case on the institution’s website.
“Any intervention has to be put into effect with the intention of protecting both lives, even though it’s previously known that one of them may be lost. But there should be no intention of death [in a case like that],” he told Crux.
Hoepers said it should be clear that the Church will never consider the crime of rape as a secondary element in this case.
“The terror that this girl had to face is shocking. We wish that justice is served,” he said.
“But we cannot admit that such crime leads to a capital punishment for an innocent baby,” he defined.
Hoepers also said he wasn’t sure if the procedure was legal under Brazilian law, which only allows abortion in cases of rape before the 12th week of pregnancy or in case of imminent danger for the mother.
“But the doctors at the first hospital said that her situation was stable and that it was possible [for the pregnancy] to go on,” he said.
Isabel Felix, a theologian and member of Catholics for the Right to Decide in Brazil, said the central discussion in that case should concern the cruelty of the repeated rapes the girl suffered throughout the years.
“This case is not about abortion. For me, it’s only a consequence, not the cause. The religious leaders who are vehemently denouncing abortion are at the same time silencing and neglecting rape,” she said.
“The body of a 10-year-old is not ready yet to give birth,” she added.
Hoepers said he received support from both the laity and his fellow bishops after he spoke out defending both the girl and her unborn child.
“There’s a consensus in the episcopate on themes concerning life and family,” he said.
The polarization in Brazil over the case, the bishop says, doesn’t help people to adequately understand all elements involved in complex bioethics discussions.
“Those themes require science, a reasonable dialogue, and much study. When they’re politicized and become ideology, we lose the opportunity of finding profound solutions and remain on their surface,” Hoepers told Crux.