The church crisis and the criminalization of abortion

The church crisis and the criminalization of abortion
Written by Cecilia Toledo – PSTU
Wednesday, 10 November 2010 01:52
All of a sudden, the pulpit turned into a political platform and the Christian followers who sought the churches to pray for the blessings met with imprecations against the decriminalization of abortion.
We were on the eve of the first round of presidential elections, and the PT candidate, Dilma Roussef, was getting a lot of pressure from religious sectors to stand on abortion. She gave a vague answer to please Greeks and Trojans, and ended up losing votes.
A superficial analysis of this fact can lead us to conclude that the church is strong and there was an advance of conservatism among the masses. Although the appearances may lead us to this conclusion we have to distrust them. It is more likely that Dilma lost votes because of the threat of a new “mensalão” [1] involving his former Assistant, Erenice Guerra. The controversy over abortion came as an adjuvant, but had the merit of putting the debate on an issue so fundamental to society, not just for women.
Many people shouted, accusing the church to engage improperly in the elections. Others shouted saying that abortion should not be used as a bargaining tool in the campaign. The church has always been involved in bourgeois elections, because in them many of bourgeois interests are at stake and because most part of the electorate follows the Christian church and other religions and hears what the priests have to say. Indeed, in Brazil most of people relies on priests much more than they do on political parties. Priests have more credit than political parties do. Furthermore, abortion must be part of the election campaign agenda, where everything must be discussed and questioned.
Widespread dissatisfaction
It is a pity that the controversy over abortion has been so rapid and shallow. Strategically, it was soon interrupted so that the truth did not surface. It would show that Dilma’s loss of votes in the first round was neither a symptom of the conservatism advancement among the masses, nor the church power advancement. The losing of votes is, in fact, a clear indication that there has been a deep movement, within the working class and masses, motivated by widespread dissatisfaction against the values crisis in which we live.
The family, seen much less as an institution and more like a human value, has been destroyed before our eyes. Love and romantic liaisons turned into consumer products, cheap commodities or an excuse for television commercials. The work, which was seen as a means to honor men and women, is pure exploitation and alienation. The job, which is seen as a godsend blessing to millions of poor families, makes the employee a slave of his employer. Motherhood, seen by most people as a magical moment to women, became a source of suffering and uncertainty. Knowledge, a value so adored and desired by all, serves to no purpose, or is sold to satisfy the elite. The most cherished value among all – human life – seems to be worthless in the face of huge urban violence, the triviality of the crime, the boom of domestic violence, the spread of drugs, wars, lack of comfort, protection of breath.
In this scenario, any discourse that classifies abortion as a form of murder, as does the church, fits like a glove. Nobody bears further witness to such huge genocide, so much contempt for human life. Therefore, those who claim to be against abortion because they defend human life have a large audience, because this is the speech that everyone wants to hear, a discourse that values life, love, and human relationships. It is fully understandable that people who are the main victims of barbarism and degradation of the most enshrined and essential human values, those values we teach our children every day, repudiate an act of violence that is against human life. What people seek in religion is the truth, peace, true goodwill, a true brotherhood. They seek the enhancement of life, the enhancement of all the essential values that make us human.
This is far from being considered conservatism. It is better and more correct to understand it as a deep movement of reaction against barbarism. This is a way – even a veiled or unconscious one – to repudiate an economic system that imposes us a barbaric way of life, based on despicable values such as selfishness, unfair competition, money and power. A barbaric way of life that values selfishness, unfair competition, money and power more than knowledge and competence, that values lies and deceit more than truth and loyalty, that considers corruption and theft as synonymous of cunning and agility, that values violence and brutality more than knowledge and intelligence.
The church and the several religious groups call for this speech, and strengthen it as barbarism grows. Religion is grounded in the motto “the worse, the better”, because a speech about the sunlight has a full meaning only during the storm. It does not matter if treating abortion as a crime means the real crime being committed daily in the midst of this storm in which we live, because it takes out the lives of millions of poor women. These crimes sound on the lips of priests and bishops as side effects. Why do not they give these lost lives their due consideration? Why do not they pray for them? Why do not they claim for them as they do for the fetus?
Terrible crimes against human life are committed every minute, and contrary to popular belief, the masses do not minimize the deaths of these women for botched abortions only because they occur in the midst of millions of additional deaths. If so, the church discourse would not have basis where to be grounded. The masses have had enough of so much death, and this is exactly what explains the church’s strategy to minimize the deaths of women, so that the anger of the masses against the support to criminalization of abortion practiced by the church doesn’t increase further. The church does not protest against the killing of women in order not to increase the anger of the masses and as a way of showing that these women are unworthy to continue living, because they are criminal. Moreover, the church does not pray for the criminals.
The church contradictions
Nevertheless, the church’s campaign against the legalization of abortion is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it shows that the church knows that amidst barbarity and indignation, preaching against the legalization of abortion falls on fertile ground. On the other hand, it is dangerous because it is a campaign built on a quicksand, where angry masses are against so many human rights violations. Such indignation eventually will turn against their own priests and bishops who close eyes for millions of women who die from illegal abortions, being responsible, therefore, for more degradation of human life.
Another contradiction the church has to face is that despite being angry with so many crimes, the masses continue to do abortions. Statistics show that out of ten women, four have already made one or more than one abortion. This means that the reality is much stronger than any ideology. In addition, the masses think a concrete way. They are struggling in a sea of mud, against this total barbarism, in this dark storm, to continue living. It is the survival law. What do the statistics show about abortion? They show that after praying on her knees before the statue of the saint, before the altar the poor woman leaves the church and will look a concrete way to solve her problem. There is no way to cover the sun with a sieve.
The legalization of abortion – something that already exists in most advanced countries, countries that are no less Catholic than Brazil, like Portugal, for example – is one of the key issues for women’s emancipation. The woman must have the right to decide over her own body, because, otherwise, we cannot say that we live in a democracy. We are on the eve of the elections second round and several acts in defense of Dilma “and democracy” are being conducted. However, it is necessary to define what type of democracy we’ll be in. Alternatively, we must ask whether Dilma’s government will be democratic, since it will not legalize abortion. On the contrary, we must ask whether women’s opinion is worth nothing.
Nowadays women are already more than half the workforce, and provide an important part of national wealth. It helps them to increase their awareness of the need to become a complete being, with all its rights to a decent life. A working woman is more likely to know how long it takes to take care of a child, whether her salary is enough to raise a child, finally, she is a less susceptible woman to abstract discourses. For her, sin becomes increasingly abstract as she enters the real intricacies of the everyday world of work and knows the progress of medicine to which millions of women have no access. Why isn’t she able to find an ally in the church? In the most critical moment of her life, the priests she has trusted so much deny any support.
Crisis of Religion as a human value
Thus, religion as a human value is also being demolished. This is a positive fact, but it has its contradictions. This dissatisfaction against the crisis of values, despite making the masses still listen to the preaching of the church against abortion, shows willingness to change. It indicates that the trivialization of the crime, the trivialization of the misery, the trivialization of violence, start to overcome the barrier of trivialization, they begin to no longer be considered normal and acceptable. The masses turn to be much displeased with all this, they want human life to be valued again.
People believe they will find it all in church. It is pure illusion. Much more concerned with the lives of mothers who have abortions, much more concerned about the fetuses that will live or die the church is preoccupied with his own power, with its very existence and continuity that are in danger. Covered in shame before the wave of child sex abuse and assault of minors involving priests and bishops, the Catholic Church, for example, is facing an unprecedented crisis in its history. So much so, that Pope Benedict XVI, concerned about the growing loss of followers in Western countries, has just created in the Vatican a “ministry to stem the loss of faith”, the so called Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization.
Faced with this crisis, the church needs to shout from the rooftops their dogmas, threatening the lost sheep with the fire of hell as a way to maintain itself as a powerful institution in a world that faces deep transformations and very serious problems to which the church cannot give response.
Being so much more than a religious role, the church plays a political role, turning the pulpit into a platform for propaganda and proselytizing in favor of policies that maintain the status quo. The spiritual comfort, words of encouragement and incentive that the faith followers seek in the church have long been replaced by threats, policy guidance in accordance with the interests of priests and bishops and the bourgeois politicians they support. The clergy became a campaigner for this or that politician since a long time ago. They no longer preach on humility, brotherhood and love for others that were once part of the religion in its infancy.
In a study on the churches, Rosa Luxemburg spoke about the preaching of the clergy against the Communists because they urged the workers to fight. “The clergy excommunicated and pursues the Social Democrats while ordering that the workers suffer patiently, allowing the capitalists to exploit them. The workers wonder why, in their struggle for emancipation, they find enemies and not allies among the church members”. (Rosa Luxemburg, Socialism and the Churches).
We can ask the same in relation to women’s struggle for legalized abortion. Why poor women workers in their struggle for emancipation, in their struggle against oppression, in their struggle for the right to decide over their own bodies, do not find an ally in the church, a motivator, but only enemies and accusers? Why the clergy orders women to have unwanted children while allowing the criminalization of abortion to be in favor of millionaire and clandestine clinics?
The women’s struggle for emancipation has lasted centuries. Millions of women died for this cause, others were arrested, others suppressed. No human group has been so mistreated as them – maybe only the black slaves. Therefore, no one would have, in the eyes of religion, more right to support and solidarity than they are. First, it was the struggle for voting rights, then the struggle for access to education, labor market, and human dignity. In all these stages, poor women workers sought encouragement in the church, because it preached equality among all humans. However, they have always faced with conservative discourses, which demanded them to remain with their husbands, raising children and taking care of the elderly, without exposing herself on the streets, without complaining of her fate. The women walked to one side, the church to another.
The steps in the fight for the legalization of abortion remain bifurcated nowadays. For millions of women, the temple doors are closed. The church, which in its infancy preached the equality of all human beings, today is a source of inequality and privilege. In condemning the legalization of abortion, the church favors wealthy women and penalizes poor women. This kind of church is not the one in which everyone believes and to which they are going in search of emotional comfort. We agree with Rosa Luxemburg who said that if the church pursues workers and uses its power to attack them, the workers should have the right to fight against the church. Therefore, if the church uses the Mass to attack the poor women, threatening them with hellfire if they fight to liberate themselves, poor women should fight the enemies of their rights and their empowerment.
[1] Mensalão: scheme of kickbacks and influence peddling involving various organs of the Brazilian government and senior officers during Lula administration in order to finance the campaigns of the PT.

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