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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Vatican opposes pregnant children's abortions

Cardinal Obando y Bravo
Opposed to abortion: Cardinal Obando y Bravo

Children as young as nine are having babies in Latin America because of the Catholic Church's policy on abortion, according to the BBC's Panorama programme.

As the Pope celebrates 25 years at the Vatican this week, the programme travelled around the world to investigate the scale of influence of the Church upon reproductive health law in poor countries, including the issue of young girls who have been raped.

The Catholic Church is opposed to abortion as it believes that destroying any life - even a fertilised egg - is immoral. And in the fiercely Catholic Latin American country of Nicaragua, the Church strongly backs the law opposing abortion in rape cases involving young girls.

Panorama spoke to two teenage sisters who have been affected by the strict law.


The girls, aged 15 and 16, were raped by their father and then had no choice but to carry the babies to full-term. Francisca and Lucila both say that they would have considered having a termination had they been allowed to do so.

Lucila said: "I was ashamed that my own father got me pregnant. Afterwards I had to stay like that until I had it, and I'm ashamed."

The law was tested to the full earlier this year when an eight-year-old girl, known only as Rosa, was raped and became pregnant.

Her parents Francisco and Maria decided they wanted an abortion for their daughter. The Church opposed the parents, and while the lawyers argued, they took her to a private clinic for an abortion.

If this child had the misfortune to be raped by someone, and then became pregnant, it is always possible... to save both lives
Cardinal Obando y Bravo of Managua
Maria told Panorama: "She wasn't like someone whose body is capable of surviving pregnancy when they become pregnant.

"She would never have been able to get to that stage, because she was a child. So we had the pregnancy terminated because she didn't want to die."

The government's attorney general came down on their side, eventually declaring that the abortion was legal because the girl's life was in danger.

However, the Church took a different view. They said the parents and the doctors who carried out the procedure had excommunicated themselves.

The country's bishops also wrote an open letter to the government asking whether there was any real difference between abortion and suicide bombings.

Cardinal Obando y Bravo has been the archbishop of the Nicaraguan capital Managua for more than 30 years. He defended the church's stance, saying: "There is a case, something that happened in El Salvador of a child aged nine, who gave birth without harming the child.

"If this child had the misfortune to be raped by someone, and then became pregnant, it is always possible, according to doctors who are experts in this field, to save both lives."

Public opinion 'confused'

His views are endorsed by one of the Vatican's most senior cardinals.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, told Panorama: "I have followed these events personally. I have written to the Cardinal personally to express to him in all sincerity my support, because public opinion was quite confused with regard to that case.

"It did not spare a thought to defending the rights of unborn babies, who are people, who have a right to live. The Church wanted to help this young girl, who should have been helped up until the birth of her child, but it also came out and stated the truth.

"And the truth is that human life is inviolable."

Sex and the Holy City will be broadcast on BBC One on Sunday, 12 October, 2003 at 22:15 BST.

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