Religious Ideology and Social Control: Abortion and the Catholic Church

Linked with Maria José Rosado Nune /Sister Zecas – Brazil, and with

Published on, by Maria José Rosado, not dated (may be old).

The Roman Catholic Church has been identified as one of the most powerful adversaries of the campaign to legalize and/or decriminalize abortion waged by feminist groups in Brazil.

The Catholic Church does indeed wield considerable social power in Brazil, acting as a major pressure group, lobbying the government and Congress, influencing the mass media, and transmitting the official Catholic doctrine on abortion to the men and particularly the women in its congregation, via specialized cadres of both genders.

However, despite the appearance of absolute consensus in the Church’s condemnation of abortion, careful observation of its practice shows that there are in fact contradictions rather than complete homogeneity. Leila Linhares (1992), analyzing the history of the pro-abortion movement in Brazil, clearly shows how the women’s movement has built alliances with segments of the Catholic Church, not for abortion but for other social issues.

The need for such alliances placed constraints on women’s demands and limited the issues debated by the movement, but on the other hand they at times amplified the repercussions of feminist struggles, because of the Church’s social penetration and its power to influence society.

In the 1970s, firm opposition to the military regime by key members of the Catholic hierarchy and the Church’s privileged position in negotiations with the state greatly boosted the institution’s credibility in the eyes of the leftwing groups with which feminists were allied or to which they belonged.

The women’s movement was therefore able to find allies in the Catholic Church who supported campaigns for daycare centers, against the cost of living, for political prisoners etc.

However, as the military began liberalizing the regime in the 1980s and feminists extended their demands explicitly to the right for women to decide freely on sexual matters, including the right to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy, the Church reacted adversely, and conflict entered the relationship.

As Geraldine Sharp recalls in a recent text, any change in the patriarchal organization of the family or attempt to enhance women’s autonomy in the sphere of sexuality and reproduction threatens the basis of Catholic belief and tradition.

Women’s demands for recognition of their moral capacity to take decisions that are acceptable from the ethical and religious standpoints; for recognition of their right to decide matters affecting their own lives and bodies and of their experiences as a fit subject for Christian reflection in the sphere of sexual morals — all these women’s demands generate situations of conflict within the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church and the abortion debate in Brazil: … (full text).

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