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Amid fears of decriminalization of abortion in Brazil, pro-life cause ‘stronger than ever’

Pro-life activists gather during a protest in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Oct. 8, 2023. Pro-life activists demonstrated in dozens of Brazilian cities that day to celebrate the country's Day of the Unborn Child and protest against the decriminalization of abortion, a possibility that was being analyzed by the Supreme Court in September. (OSV News photo/Washington Alves, Reuters)
Pro-life activists gather during a protest in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Oct. 8, 2023. Pro-life activists demonstrated in dozens of Brazilian cities that day to celebrate the country's Day of the Unborn Child and protest against the decriminalization of abortion, a possibility that was being analyzed by the Supreme Court in September. (OSV News photo/Washington Alves, Reuters)

SÃO PAULO (OSV News) — Pro-life activists demonstrated in dozens of Brazilian cities Oct. 8 to celebrate the country’s Day of the Unborn Child and protest against the decriminalization of abortion, a possibility that was being analyzed by the Supreme Court in September.

The Brazilian church has been promoting an unprecedented campaign against abortion this year, with widespread engagement of the clergy and lay movements.

The drive is a response to a petition presented by the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party (known as PSOL) in 2017 to the Supreme Court. The party argued that the women’s rights of citizenship are damaged by the criminalization of abortion in the country, given that it allegedly represents a denial of their capacity to make reproductive decisions.

The prohibition of abortion also constitutes a form of violation of women’s right to health, PSOL added, and it can lead women to suffer “inhumane treatment comparable to torture.”

Only in three cases can abortion be legally performed in Brazil currently: if the woman gets pregnant as a consequence of rape; if the pregnancy endangers her health; or if the fetus is anencephalic, a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull.

Brazil’s bishops’ conference, known by the Portuguese acronym CNBB, fears that legalizing abortion can provoke more and more confusion among Catholics, leading some of them to believe that it is something legitimate, given that it is legal.

“But we know that it is not because something is legally accepted that it is a moral act,” said Archbishop Julio Akamine of Sorocaba. Archbishop Akamine has recently issued a number of documents to make it clear the church repudiates abortion.

The decriminalization of abortion in some situations, he argued, has not reduced women’s sufferings.

“Obviously, being pregnant as the result of rape is dramatic, as well as carrying an anencephalic fetus. But abortion only intensifies the pain,” he told OSV News, adding that priests who hear the confessions of mothers who had an abortion know how guilty they feel about it.

“We cannot abandon those women. The only way out of such a crisis is to help those mothers,” he continued.

Over the past few months, CNBB has been incentivizing both the clergy and lay Catholics to openly talk about abortion and to post comments against it on social media. Pro-life marches organized on the days before and after Oct. 8 are part of that effort.

Dr. Pedro Spineti, who heads the Brazilian Association of Catholic Physicians, is among the laypeople who heeded the church’s call.

“As soon as the Supreme Court scheduled the session to discuss abortion, we gathered to pray the rosary,” he told OSV News.

The Catholic doctors also took part in the production of the materials that would be used during marches and activities in the pro-life week.

“Our demonstration in Copacabana (a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro) gathered a significant number of participants, people of different faiths and ideologies,” he said. Relevant protests also were staged in Brasília, Belo Horizonte and São Paulo.

Spineti celebrated the fact that people attended the marches wearing white — as had been previously agreed on — and did not use them as a party platform.

Part of the pro-life movement identifies with the former President Jair Bolsonaro, an outspoken critic of abortion, and strongly repudiates the current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, viewed by many as pro-abortion.

It is common to see such activists criticizing the CNBB and individual bishops on social media when they publish pro-life content. The activists backing the former president feel the Brazilian episcopate should have supported Bolsonaro’s reelection and excommunicated Lula.

“Those attacks have a political nature. Some people want to monopolize causes like abortion as if they were the sole moral guardians of them,” Archbishop Akamine explained.

In his opinion, many people from different segments and political stances oppose abortion — and everybody should remain together now, campaigning for life despite their differences.

For Spineti, polarization brings great challenges for the pro-life movement.

“The defense of life is not something of the right-wing or of the left-wing. It does not pertain to any political party. Our task now is to dissociate such things,” he affirmed.

Dr. Elizabeth Kipman Cerqueira, a gynecologist who is a national coordinator of the Citizens’ Movement for Life – Brazil Without Abortion, told OSV News that campaigns used to be more apathetic in the past. This year, in her opinion, the involvement of the clergy and lay Catholics in the pro-life cause is stronger than ever.

“I am very pleased to see that surprising mobilization. People are much more conscious of the problem of abortion today than they were 10 years ago,” she said.

Cerqueira thinks that legalizing abortion can be the beginning of a process of disrespect to life on many other levels, bringing with it things like euthanasia, for instance.

“But people understand it now, so we have reasons to be hopeful about the future,” she declared.

Nobody knows how the Supreme Court will proceed. In September, Justice Rosa Weber, who headed the court, declared her vote for legalization. But then she left the court and retired. The new president, Justice Roberto Barroso, told a Brazilian newspaper Oct. 6 that society is not mature enough to discuss that issue and that he does not intend to schedule a session about it now.

Despite that, CNBB and the pro-life movements will keep campaigning.

“We must express our rejection to abortion and make political pressure, of course. But more important than that is to form the people’s consciousness. That is our major goal,” Archbishop Akamine concluded.

Eduardo Campos Lima writes for OSV News from São Paulo.

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