With Roman Catholics deeply entrenched against relaxing Brazil’s restrictive abortion laws and other groups like Anglicans on the fence, a progressive Baptist leader says it’s time to hear from poor women fearing birth defects who seek them.
An indigenous Baptist leader says Brazil should consider easing restrictions on abortion in light of the mosquito-borne Zika virus and its apparent link to an outbreak of microcephaly, a congenital condition in which babies are born with unusually tiny heads.
“We understand this is an issue that needs to be discussed with society in a much more open and democratic manner,” Joel Zeferino, president of the Alliance of Baptists of Brazil, said in a story about a debate raging among Christian groups in the country reported by Catholic News Service.
President Dilma Rousseff has appealed to Christian churches to educate their congregations about the Zika fever breakout which began last April in Brazil and subsequently spread to 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
A recent meeting of the National Council of Christian Churches on water sanitation spilled over into abortion, which is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape, danger to the life of the mother or anencephaly, a rare birth defect in which the brain and skull do not develop.
The Brazilian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement Feb. 4 saying the health crisis sparked by the Zika virus is “no justification whatsoever to promote abortion.”
Five governments so far are advising women to avoid pregnancy until the epidemic has been controlled, perhaps for several years.
Zeferino, pastor of Igreja Batista Nazareth in Salvador, said it’s time to expand the discussion to other sectors of society.
“We need to include in this debate the women who suffer these abortions, the women who live on the outskirts of our cities, the black women,” said Zeferino, part of a delegation from Brazil that visited the 2013 annual meeting of the Alliance of Baptists in Greenville, S.C.
“These are the ones who, in fact, resort to illegal abortions,” he said. “We need to empower these women with voices so they have their say as many don’t have access to even basic health rights.”
The Alliance of Baptists of Brazil was begun in 2005 by about 60 Baptists who fell out of favor with the Brazilian Baptist Convention because of their socially progressive views. Differences included theological education, women’s ordination, how to treat gays and lesbians, ecumenical involvement and influence by Southern Baptist missionaries serving with the International Mission Board.
The group organized as a “fraternal partner” with the Alliance of Baptists, a U.S.-based group formed over similar pressure points in the Southern Baptist Convention in 1987. While not formally sponsored by the American group, the Alliance of Baptists of Brazil adopted a Portuguese translation of the Alliance of Baptists’ covenant and mission as their own.
Brazil’s president recently received religious leaders from different denominations at the Presidential Palace, asking them to mobilize churches to help eliminate breeding grounds of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries Zika and other viruses that can affect humans.
The genus is found throughout the world and lays its eggs in standing water that collects in artificial containers like old tires, flowerpots, gutters and trashcans as well as in flood plains and crevices that occur in nature.
“It is necessary that the churches take their social role mobilizing the faithful to fight various problems related to sanitation, but, in particular, combating Aedes aegypti,” Zeferino told the Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
Health officials aren’t 100 percent certain that Zika is behind the recent uptick increase in babies born with microcephaly, a rare but lifelong condition with no known cure that can be diagnosed during pregnancy with an ultrasound.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Feb. 5 that reproductive health services must be part of any effective public health strategy to fight the Zika virus.
LifeNews.com, an anti-abortion news service based in Fort Collins, Colo., urged readers to “contact the Alliance of Baptists of Brazil and tell them to protect unborn babies from abortion.”