state and religion


By Sandra Bitencourt*

Abortion, public debate, childhood and barbarism: violations in profusion

The word abortion was practically not part of the headlines of the main media in the country when reporting, this week, the brutal plot involving a child of only 10 years old. Interruption of pregnancy was the expression chosen to tell the tragic story of a girl raped by her uncle since she was six years old, pregnant, terrified and emotionally fragile, who had the right to a legal abortion decreed by the court and went through a new ordeal of aggressions in order to obtain access treatment. Perhaps the term abortion has been avoided so as not to offend sensitivities or further stir up the extremist position of religious, fundamentalist, conservative and opportunist groups of all kinds. The fact is that the public debate was established within the new virtual flows and dynamics, with the protagonism of digital influencers, parliamentarians active in social networks, religious groups and feminist organizations. In addition to the revulsion at the succession of violations that the girl and her family suffered, the episode is an opportunity to think about the symbolic processes of dispute around sensitive issues in which public communication and its mission to articulate the network of positions around the public interest agendas, is captured in processes of constraint and restriction in the exchange of reasons that should be oriented towards plurality and rational dialogue.

Abortion is one of the most controversial issues among the so-called sensitive issues. It is segregating (because it does not allow for consensus) and unifying at the same time, as it is capable of bringing together different religious affiliations (not infrequently in competition) and thus allowing a strategic use, even if for that it is necessary to attack the childhood that these same actors claim defend.

One of the world's great researchers on the subject (Vaggione, 2006) offers us the interpretation that the discourse of the state and religion regarding abortion has the double capacity of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to exercise its power over the state and at the same time to establish the limits cultural and moral aspects of the debate among the population. This power manifests itself with particular virulence in relation to abortion, presenting it as contrary to natural law. Perhaps it would be reasonable to imagine that in light of the feasibility, that is, in the face of an example from concrete life, it would be possible to reach a consensus, since it is a case of the rape of a child, whose continuation of the pregnancy would bring not only intense trauma and emotional suffering, but unequivocal risk to life. But the succession of events and discursive statements showed that there are no ethical and moral limits to the condemnation of decriminalization by those who present themselves as “Pro-life”. These institutions have roots all over the world and their activism regains a place of importance and even boldness when strata of the ultra-right conquer positions, projection and an uncensored public voice.

Foucault (1996) teaches us that public speaking practices and the discourses that cross them are constituted as a combination of what is visible and what is enunciable in each historical stratum. Discursive formations are, therefore, the lenses through which, in each time and place, people perceive everything around them. These historical frames that guide the perception of what to say, think and do allow positions in a singular way. We can, then, pose the following question: why at this moment, in this chaotic scenario of history, is it possible or acceptable to pronounce the way it has been done?

It is worthwhile, even if briefly, to organize a summary of the events, of the discursive web that won the mass media and digital circulation via social networks and the enunciators of the violent discussion that took place around the case.

Let's first map out the protagonists: conservative Christian religious groups and leaders (Catholics and Evangelicals); religiously oriented parliamentarians; digital influencers and activists (conservatives and progressives); progressive church groups; feminist groups; media and rights activists.

One of the most notable events was the attempted invasion of the Amauri de Medeiros Integrated Health Center (Cisam), in Recife (PE), to prevent a 10-year-old girl from having a legal abortion. The patient had already been denied the right at the Cassiano Antônio Moraes University Hospital (HUCAM), in the state of Espírito Santo, according to the medical team due to lack of technical conditions to perform an abortion with a pregnancy more advanced than 22 weeks. Pressure from extremist groups caused, according to the description of the psychologists who followed the case, the child crying and despairing, the grandmother fainting, fear and exposure of the family. The child traveled to the capital of Pernambuco exclusively to terminate the pregnancy. The hospital, which is a reference in procedures authorized by law, had to call the police to contain the groups of extremists who accused the child and the doctor in charge of being murderers. Among these extremists, at least four parliamentarians. The expulsion of the extremists, however, was operated by a group of feminist women, the Women's Forum of Pernambuco. The procedure was carried out and the child is doing well. All the insecurity and violence committed around the procedure only took place because an extreme right-wing activist, codenamed Sara Winter (recently arrested by decision of the STF), revealed the child's name and the location of the procedures. The Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights (MMFDH) released a note denying having leaked information about the case. The case occupied a good part of the discussions on social networks, forcing measures and positioning of the largest networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter regarding the videos of the extremist that violated, once again, the rights of the child.

Throughout the day of the procedure, conservative groups formed lines in front of Cisam to embarrass the family and health professionals. Among the activists, parliamentarians against abortion swelled their voices of protest against the justice decision, such as deputies Clarissa Tércio (PSC), Cleiton and Michelle Collins, both from the PP, councilor Renato Antunes (PSC), state deputy Joel da Harpa (PP) and former deputy Terezinha Nunes (MDB).

Below some prints exemplify the sequence of posts. The first shows Sara Winter's tweet calling for Live in which she informs the child and hospital data. The post was later removed from the air.

Brazil, by law, allows abortion in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape and in cases where there is a risk to the life of the mother or anencephaly of the fetus. Data from the National Abortion Survey, carried out in 2015 by the Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender (Anis) in partnership with the University of Brasília (UnB), show that one in five women aged between 18 and 39 had already performed at least an abortion up to the age of 40, totaling almost 500 interventions. The numbers could be higher, as the survey did not cover teenagers, women in rural areas and those over 49.

In Latin America, in general, abortion has historically been constructed clandestinely, as a double standard issue, accepted by the population whenever it is practiced silently and invisibly. Thus, the positions become sacred and are presented in absolute terms that do not allow the existence of dissent and the debate itself, since it becomes a threat to the family model accepted by the conservative religious order (Barreras, Weber, 2015). This supposed threat to the integrity of the family model may be the explanation for the growing strength of religious conservative sectors in the last twenty years, which has generated an increasing rigidity in their positions on these issues, repressing with greater vigor dissident opinions within institutions Catholics (SHEPARD, 2000).

The first initiative in Brazil to decriminalize abortion dates back to 1983, with a bill presented to the Constitution and Justice Commission of the Federal Chamber and rejected. Since the 2004st National Conference on Policies for Women, in 2007, social movements have recommended that the government “review the punitive legislation that deals with the voluntary termination of pregnancy”. In 2010, the II National Conference on Policies for Women recommended that the Bill originating from a Tripartite Commission, with a proposal for decriminalization, be resubmitted to Congress by the Executive Branch. In October of the same year, the then Chief Minister of the Civil House, Dilma Rousseff, made a statement in the same direction to the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, a position that would return to the scene in 800, in the presidential campaign. It is in this election, with a woman competitive in the presidential race, that the theme emerges with a strategic use, wearing down the then candidate. Both candidates, Dilma and Serra, are silent about further debate. The PT candidate negotiates with religious groups, publishes a Letter to the People of God and undertakes not to resume the discussion of decriminalization. The position of the progressive groups is also to avoid the debate so as not to harm the candidacy that most represented women. The press, at the time, covered content within the framework proposed by the promoters of the agenda: through moral and religious bias. Despite protesting against the medieval content of the agenda, the means of reference (analyzed in my doctoral thesis) are limited to the political dispute, having a single article, among more than XNUMX contents produced in the second round electoral period, with women being heard and data referring to the public health problem that the practice represents. The fact is that once the election was completed and the candidate Dilma Rousseff was elected, the website of the Secretariat for Policies for Women, no longer made available any information on the abortion agenda, as well as the Secretariat for Human Rights, both linked to the Presidency of the Republic. It can be inferred that there was a silence on the subject and no movement that sought to put this agenda in public debate. Even militant groups have not returned to old pressures. It seems that the issue of women's reproductive rights has become subaltern to marketing strategies and equations of political composition and electoral calculation. In this week's episode, former President Dilma Rousseff unequivocally positioned herself against conservative groups, as shown in the posts below.

In the same sense of progressive positions, increasingly important actors enter the field in debates that are expanded by technological devices: digital influencers. Able to compete for attention and convey opinion in expressive segments, with thousands of followers, especially among the youngest, the influencers made a point of showing concrete support for the raped girl in so many dimensions. Influencer Felipe Neto offered financial aid to guarantee the girl's studies. Social networks quickly began to discuss the position of the youtuber who has been attacked by conservative groups and accused of encouraging pedophilia. Influencer Whindersson, on the other hand, announced his willingness to pay for psychological treatment for the girl.

The positions in profusion set fire to the networks, bringing together different groups and unifying the possible arguments on each side of the trench. While among those positioned in favor of pro-abortion (to use the terminologies that traditionally define positions) the main argument was in defense of the rights of the raped child, on the side of the pro-life groups, there were arguments asking for punishment with the death penalty for pedophiles and the imposition of chemical castration. One of the trending topics throughout the day on Twitter was the hashtag # Abortolegal, with 10, 2 thousand tweets. The hashtag #Castração, accounted for 20,7 thousand tweets. Even religious groups and leaders split. Some pastors and evangelical organizations were favorable to the procedure, claiming that fanaticism does not defend life, but rather defends dogma. Official Catholic leaders were peremptory in condemning abortion, warning that there are no exceptions, that abortion is always condemnable.

In general, in a less accurate look at the networks and discarding the undergrounds of right-wing groups on WhatsApp, it seems that the progressives' reaction was effective and their arguments dominant, although the presence of posts by ultra-right groups is shocking due to the perversity and lack of limits, like the example below.

As normally the reference media, in turn, seems less oriented by adherence to conservative positions and more by interests as one of the great players supporting the neoliberal agenda, the radicalized moral themes do not find sympathetic frameworks, although the term abortion has been carefully avoided in the titles of the articles. However, there was no more in-depth material, with careful exploration of the contradictory, which also implies obedience to a certain ethos professional who has human rights as one of his main parameters. One of the central issues of this debate, which is the secularity of the State, is never properly addressed. Wouldn't it be up to journalism to take up the central question: if a creed, a vision of life based on mystical experiences, can lead an area in which the definition of public policies has the power to save lives or condemn poor women to savagery? This has not been sufficiently debated and problematized by journalism, whose role is to help interpret the world and reinforce democratic values. The issue of evangelization replacing the secular role of the State does not seem to gain space or editorial interest in the reference media, much less in government communication. If we start from the idea that when we defend the secularity of the State, when we seek to separate gender from a reproductive destiny determined by the State, we are dealing with a civilizing achievement, it would be up to journalism to inform the public debate in this sense . The report and the manifest ideas about the role of women in the family are an indication that the authorities that should assist women in their entirety (whether they are transsexuals, mothers, married or single) determine exclusions based on their faith or ideology. Denounce the power that does not correspond to its constitutional and republican role should also be the role of journalism. It is an emancipatory achievement to separate religious doctrine and moral conduct from the rights provided and respected by the State. The centrality of the feminist struggle in the right to family planning has as an obvious reason the autonomy of bodies and the non-naturalization of the roles of caregivers and reproducers. The reduction of women to their reproductive role, in a caricature of the feminine, is one of the biggest struggles on the feminist agenda. These aspects are in sharp discursive dispute in the different channels that connect public interest and communication arenas in the complex networks of contemporary democracy. The danger of discourses that demand symbolic violence to determine choices and disqualify positions is to intensify in this radicalized scenario the idea of ​​a crusade, a moral guerrilla war against rights, minorities and controversial social practices such as abortion, once again criminalizing the most vulnerable women. vulnerable. Nothing more vulnerable, by the way, than a poor girl.

It is necessary to understand that the mechanisms for forming public opinion are complex and permeable to efforts to strategically schedule issues with a moral and religious bias by groups that proved victorious in the last election. Abortion and religion have been mixed since the 2010 election. The naturalized model of the Christian family and faith in God became an attribute for candidates, especially for executive positions. The power of influence and threat of political-media-religious forces has only increased and consolidated since then. Media activism, religious groups and supporters of moral guidelines are strengthened and established as authentic, using the new possibilities and reach of social media. On the other hand, progressive movements seek to combat religious positioning with scientific, statistical and legal arguments.

In this brutal succession of violations to which a child was exposed, however, all these questions fit which should be the subject of a rational and responsible debate, especially by public authorities. The guarantee that the law was complied with and the girl is minimally protected from barbarism is a breath of fresh air. But it is little, very little compared to the enormous brutality that plagues us.

* Sandra Bitencourt is a journalist, PhD in Communication and Information from UFRGS, guest researcher at Nucop/UFRGS.


BARRERAS, Sandra EBOB de , WEBER, Maria Helena- Elections, abortion and controversial issues: political-media activism of religious groups and government silencing- Revista Contemporânea | communication and culture – v.13 – n.01 – May-Aug 2015 – p. 243-260

BARRERAS, Sandra EB Abortion scheduling in the 2010 Brazilian presidential campaign: strategic reverberation and silencing between the press, social media and candidates. Porto Alegre: UFRGS/PPGCOM, 2013. (doctoral thesis in Communication and Information), 2013.

FOUCAULT, M. The Order of Discourse. São Paulo: Loyola, 1996.

SHEPARD, Bonnie. The “double discourse” on sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America: the gap between public policies and private acts. 2000. Available at www. Accessed on 14.05.2012.

VAGGIONE, Juan M. Abortion: las nuevas fronteras- Red Latinoamericana de catholicas por el right to decide (2006). Available at php?option=com_content&task=view&id=161&Itemid=82( accessed 19/08/2012)

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