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Jon O'Brien

Catholics for Choice Decries Bishops' Condemnation of Rape Victim

Last week, the Brazilian bishops shocked the world when they condemned a nine-year-old girl and her family after she had an abortion. The young girl was pregnant as a result of rape by her stepfather. Under the current law in Brazil, abortion is permissible in the cases of rape or when the woman's life is in danger. This case falls under both exceptions as it would have been nearly impossible for the girl to carry the twins to term with her immature body.

Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding this case, the hierarchy of the Catholic church in Brazil showed a tremendous lack of common sense and compassion when they stated that the girl should have carried the pregnancy to term, suggesting that her life would not be in danger if she had a cesarean section. They even went so far as to call for the excommunication of the girl's family and her doctors. Adding insult to injury, top Vatican officials have supported the Brazilian bishops in their actions.

Instead of condemning a child and the people trying to take care of her, the Catholic hierarchy ought to focus on social justice in advocating for an end to violence against women and girls, supporting a preferential option for the poor and standing for women's health. The hierarchy's obsession with abortion is acting as a blinder, preventing them from seeing reason and standing for justice in difficult circumstances.

Oceans apart but with the same disregard for women's health, Catholic bishops and the Vatican are predictably up in arms lobbying the government against easing restrictions on abortion laws in Spain. Parliamentarians are preparing to consider revisions to that country's strict abortion law, which only allows women to end pregnancies up to 12 weeks in cases of rape and 22 weeks in cases of fetal malformation, or with a doctor's certification that the women's health is in danger. The Spanish bishops oppose the decriminalization of abortion and liberalization of its availability despite the fact that a majority of Catholics support abortion rights as well as a variety of efforts, including contraception, that help prevent the need for abortion.

Whether in the terribly sad cases like we saw in Brazil, or, as in Spain, where parliamentarians can improve public policies to respect women as decision makers about their health and lives, there will always be a need for abortion. Catholics for Choice calls upon all policy makers, to support the right to safe and legal abortion for women who need it.

Jon O'Brien

Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice in Washington DC (USA), issued the above statement on 10 March2009.

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