Abortion debate weighs on Brazil Presidential poll

Religion has pushed its way into Brazil?s presidential election, which gets decided on the weekend, with frontrunner Dilma Rousseff reaching out to Christian voters cold-shouldering her.

Rio de Janeiro: Religion has pushed its way into Brazil?s presidential election, which gets decided on the weekend, with frontrunner Dilma Rousseff reaching out to Christian voters cold-shouldering her.

The pressure being felt in the world`s biggest Catholic country, with more than 130 million faithful, has prompted both her and her rival Jose Serra to say they are against changing Brazil`s ban on abortions, and are opposed to gay marriages.

But Rousseff has an uphill battle convincing some religious leaders.

The diocese of Guarulhos in Sao Paulo has even come out calling her "the candidate of death" for her past support for lifting the abortion ban.

The issue proved problematic for her in the October 3 first round of the election, when she failed to come up with an expected outright majority because Catholic and evangelical voters defected at the last minute after an Internet campaign.

"I was very surprised to see abortion resurface in the campaign. They (the opposition) introduced an opportunistic virus to distract debate on its programs," Frei Betto, a Brazilian theologian, told AFP.

Rousseff last week tried to counter the challenge by giving a television interview in which she said the law prohibiting abortions should stay -- but also saying that thought should be given to not punishing women who have them.

"You can`t pretend that there aren`t thousands, even millions of women... 3.5 million according to data, who turn to abortion" every year in the country, she said.

That ambivalence has made her a target on the Internet and in several churches. Online messages urge voters to "burn a witch" in Sunday`s election, which falls on October 31 -- Halloween.

Rousseff has said she is aware she faces "conservative forces" opposing her on religious grounds.

But even so, most Catholics -- 54 percent, according to surveys -- still support Rousseff in her bid to become Brazil`s first female president.

She is well ahead of Serra, behind by around 12 points and with little hope of producing an upset.

Although as a former health minister who introduced the contraceptive pill into Brazil in 1998, Serra has not suffered as much as Rousseff from the religious attacks.
During his campaigning, he declared himself "in favor of life" and has handed out pamphlets proclaiming "Only Jesus is Truth."

"The two candidates have done an about-face on the issue (of abortion) so as not to fuel the debate, and to present themselves as very religious," Frei Betto said.
A sociologist, Helio Jaguaribe, close to Serra`s Social Democrats, told AFP he was against religion exerting an influence on the election.

Bureau Report

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