Sun | Jun 20, 2021

Letter of the Day | More needs to be done to promote safe motherhood

Published:Monday | May 10, 2021 | 12:05 AM


Ivonne Gebara, an accomplished Catholic, Brazilian theologian made a compelling little statement that I wish all religious leaders would consider. She spoke of “defending abortion in the name of life”.

Far too often, we think of our religious institutions as having a, uniform, monolithic stance. That is seldom the case. In service of presenting a view quite distinct from the more frequently heard conservative stance, please indulge me the space to make considerable reliance on Sr Gebara.

“Today I am in favour of decriminalising and legalising abortion as one means of lessening the violence against life…

“Legalising abortion does not mean the affirmation of the ‘goodness,’ ‘innocence,’ or even ‘unconditional defence’ of the act of abortion: rather, it offers the possibility of humanising and making safe what is already being practiced.

“Legalising abortion is merely one of the important aspects of a broader struggle within a society that condones the social abortion of its sons and daughters. A society that does not provide the conditions of adequate employment, health, housing, and schools is an abortive society. A society that obliges women to choose between keeping their jobs and terminating a pregnancy is an abortive society … . A society that remains silent about the responsibility of the men and blames only women, disrespects their bodies and their history, that is exclusive and sexist, is an abortive society…

“My position with regard to the decriminalisation and legalisation of abortion, as a citizen, a Christian, and a member of a religious community is one of denouncing the evil, the institutionalised violence, the abuses, and the hypocrisy that envelop us. It is a testimony to life; it is in defence of life.”

I think that a huge part of our problem lies in the chasm in life experience between those insulated by class and privilege who extol lofty standards, and others who are close to the social reality of their worshippers. Sr Gebara lived among the poor in the city of Recife in northeastern Brazil . I wonder how many of our more conservative priests have visited and comforted women dying of sepsis from unsafe abortions.


What we need is a healthy dialogue between conservative and liberal religious leaders. Surely, they have the temperament for resolving earnest, constructive differences among them.

We opened our hearts in a hypocritical celebration of Mother’s Day, yet we do nothing to advance safe motherhood. Worse, the best among us, many of our religious leaders, vehemently oppose steps that would make a great difference to motherhood by choice.