Hard cases have played a prominent role in legalising abortion. One only has to think of the “Jane Roe” of Roe v Wade, a poor and desperate woman pregnant as the result of rape, whose dilemma persuaded the Supreme Court of the United States to create a right to abortion for all women out of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.
But Roe’s plight was as nothing compared with that of a nine-year-old Brazilian girl whose case has become a cause celebre for the world’s liberal press during the past couple of weeks. As a result of being sexually molested and raped by her mother’s young partner over a period of three years, the young girl became pregnant — with twins.
As the world in general was informed, the slightly built girl would probably die giving birth and so some compassionate doctors got rid of the babies for her at about 14 weeks. This was legal under Brazilian law, which permits termination in the case of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. But, to the shock and horror of all compassionate people, the prelate in charge of the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife, where the abortion took place, announced that the good doctors were excommunicated — and not only them, but the poor mother as well for wanting to spare her little daughter the trauma of giving birth. Unbelievably, the scoundrel who had abused her would not be excommunicated. He was under arrest, for sure, but as far as the church was concerned, his crime did not merit being cut off from church life.
Could there be a more patent demonstration of the heartlessness and absurdity of Catholic dogma tout court? Even Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho’s brother bishops in Brazil and all the way to Rome were embarrassed and began talking as if the excommunications had been a ghastly mistake and the abortions permissible.
Could there be a more perfect argument for shutting the chauvinistic, patriarchal church of the dark ages out of Brazil’s abortion debate and allowing the legions of light to lead the 74 per cent Catholic country — whose Congress only last year voted overwhelmingly to reject a modest attempt at decriminalizing abortion — into a 21st century of unfettered reproductive choice?
Brazil’s Minister of Health, Jose Gomes Temporao, is already gung-ho with this project, backing the efforts of the country’s main abortion organisation, Ipas Brazil, and calling the team who carried out the nine-year-old’s abortion “brilliant”. Even President "Lula" de Silva has felt secure enough to declare that, “In this case, the medical profession was more right than the church.”
In the face of all this, what have Archbishop Sobrinho and those who support him got to say for themselves? Is there another side to the story? Of course there is.
The Archbishop, who emerges from various reports not as a monster of legalism but as a vigorous and fearless pastor, is unrepentant. He pointed out in an interview on March 5 that he did not rush out and excommunicate anyone. The adults involved in the abortion excommunicated themselves because that is the automatic penalty for that sin. He simply stated that this was the case when he was talking to journalists the day before the abortion took place — as a warning to Catholics and, no doubt, in a last-ditch attempt to deter those who would defy a very clear law of God against the taking of innocent human life. “I am very peaceful about it,” he said later. How could he, or Catholics in general remain silent in the face of a “silent holocaust” of 50 million abortions worldwide every year and one million in Brazil alone?
So a principle was defended, but what about the poor little girl-mother? The question evidently tormented the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who more than a week later wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that the girl had been dealt with insensitively and that the excommunications were too hasty.
Stung by this criticism from a totally unexpected source, a group of senior clergy close to the events, including the girl’s parish priest, Fr Edson Rodrigues, issued a statement two days ago defending the Archbishop and giving a detailed account of what happened from the time they first learned of her situation.
Addressing claims made by Archsbishop Fisichelli the statement notes, among other things:
* The parish priest treated the girl, “Carmen”, and her family with pastoral concern and gentleness, assuring them of support , co-operating with local child welfare officers, and visiting her daily in hospital, even after she was moved 230 kms away to Recife. Their aim was always to “save THREE lives”.
* Was the girl’s life in danger? An obstetrician with 50 years experience, including delivering many juvenile mothers, testified to them that he “never had to resort to an abortion to save lives” — nor had his colleagues.
* The doctors concerned were “not at a moral crossroads” and struggling with their consciences: “The hospital in which the abortion on the little girl was performed is one of those in which this procedure is always performed in our state, under the cover of ‘legality’.” The doctors had even boasted about what they did in the media. (Dr. Olimpio Moraes, one of the doctors involved in the procedure and also trained by Ipas in manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) abortion, said he thanked the archbishop for his excommunication because the controversy sheds light on Brazil's restrictive abortion laws. He said women in Brazil’s countryside are victimized by Brazil's ban on abortion.)
It seems pretty clear from this and other sources that abortion activists seized on this case to advance their cause, pressuring the girl and her illiterate mother (who had to sign papers with a finger print) into going ahead with the abortion and whisking her off secretly to an abortion-friendly institution to carry it out under the pretext of saving her life.
But in doing so they exposed Carmen to a new set of risks. Through a Brazilian women’s organisation, Mulheres Mineiras em Acao (Women from Minas Gerais (state) in Action), MercatorNet has obtained comments on the case from Dr Elizabeth Cerquiera Kipman, an obstetrician and gynaecolgist at Hospital Sao Francisco in Sao Paulo.
She believes the abortion doctors must have used Cytotec — a drug designed for the treatment of gastric ulcers but widely used to induce abortions. Since there would be little or no information on how this drug, or any other, would affect a nine-year-old girl pregnant with twins, they would have been “shooting in the dark” with this abortion, says Dr Kipman, who also heads her hospital’s bioethics department.
On the other hand there was no immediate threat to the girl’s life and there was no evidence to substantiate the claim of such a risk (apparently “90 per cent” was mentioned) from giving birth. Dr Kipman says she knows of girls who have given birth at the age of 10 and have had no subsequent health problems. She has not heard of any death from juvenile pregnancies.
For Carmen, there was the possibility of a premature birth or even miscarriage, which is simpler and less risky than induced abortion. But if her pregnancy had lasted to at least 22 weeks there would have been a 10-20 per cent chance of survival for the twins if delivered with the intention of saving them and minimising risk to the mother.
The other serious risk the abortionists took with the girl concerns her mental health. After three years of being used “like a rag” by a man, says Dr Kipman (who is also a psychotherapist), Carmen would have felt completely worthless as a person. This would have been reinforced by the destruction of her children: “See, I’m rubbish and no-one wants my trash.”
But just imagine if she was surrounded by love and care, and began to sense that the children she had within her were valuable — “this could be the beginning of her redemption as a whole person”, suggests Dr Kipman.
Sadly for Carmen, all these possibilities were lost in the rush to abort and the rush to publish the latest political blunder of the Catholic Church. None of the major media thought them worth investigating — if they thought of them at all.
It’s sad, too, for all the Carmens of Brazil. As the Brazilian bishop’s conference has pointed out, the social problem behind the personal tragedy of Carmen is “the increase of cases of abuse of minors in the country,” a topic “on which the national conscience must be awakened”.
Abortion, of course, will not stop abuse. By burying the evidence it will only make it easier. But we will wait a long time for international headlines shaming the abortion industry for perpetuating sexual abuse.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.