Rousseff changes her position on abortion, which costs her two points
[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for October 7. See original article here.]
by Arturo Cano
Rio de Janeiro, October 6 – At the beginning of last year, Brazilian media gave prominence to a terrible story: a nine-year-old girl, raped by her stepfather and pregnant with twins, received an abortion in a public clinic in Pernambuco. The doctors had determined that in her case the two exceptional circumstances in Brazilian law were met: the life of the young mother was in danger and the pregnancy was the result of rape
The reaction of the Catholic Church, represented in this case by the archbishop of Recife and Olinda, José Cardoso, left no doubt about how far the Brazilian hierarchy would go in its “defense of life”: it excommunicated the doctors and the girl’s family members, except for the stepfather who had abused the child since she was six years old. “We consider it illicit to end one life to save another,” declared the Catholic hierarch in his final judgement on the episode.
When this case is taken into account, things did not go so badly for Dilma Rousseff, the Workers’ Party candidate, and Lula’s, for the Brazilian presidency. The war against her because of her support for decriminalizing abortion, on which she reversed herself in the campaign, cost her only two points in the first round of the election, according to some polls.
But although Rousseff would like to end this chapter, the more conservative sectors of the churches (the Catholic and the numerous evangelicals) are not going to let go of it from now until October 31, the date of the runoff election.
Besides, now they have an invaluable ally in José Serra, the Social Democrat Party candidate and Rousseff’s opponent.
Encounter with the allies
In a meeting with the upper tier of his allies, a day after Rousseff and Lula had done the same, Serra accused his opponent of trying to “entangle” the voters and of showing a “lack of respect” for them by changing her position on abortion.
“I never said I liked the MST (Landless Workers’ Movement) because I don’t like it. I never said I was in favor of abortion because I am against it,” says Serra in reference to a statement made by Dilma Rousseff in 2007, and repeated by the Brazilian media to the point of saturation, in which the then minister proposed that abortion is a “matter of public health.” Both Rousseff and Lula, who had also on some occasions shown himself to be in favor of decriminalization, have preferred to back down to avoid incurring the wrath of priests and preachers.
According to the NGO IPAS Brasil, more than a million Brazilian women have abortions every year. In doing so, a large number of them, especially the poorest, put their health and even their lives at risk.
Some of them have avoided abortions because Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s minister of health, José Serra by name, did nothing to prevent continuing the distribution by the Brazilian health network of the so-called “morning-after pill.”
But, strangely enough, no sermons or ominous internet videos have been directed at “the best minister of health Brazil has ever had,” despite the fact that “abortion by pill is also a crime.” Or was it not the Catholic Church that said that?
Of course, he did not support the abortion in Pernambuco.
The two finalists are back on the campaign trail
Last Monday morning found Dilma Rousseff in meeting after meeting with the upper tier of the alliance of which she is the candidate. Leading those meetings, of course, was President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
At those gatherings the main points of the campaign, already beginning, were mapped out. First, make a comparison between the administrations of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula the principle theme.
For brevity, the data from Carta Maior [news agency]: “Lula, 15 million jobs; Cardoso, 5 million.” And another: “They (the tucanos [social democrats] Cardoso and Serra) wanted Petrobras to be called Petrobrax *.” And it continues in that vein ad infinitum until October 31.
The second point of the lulista candidate is to extend a hand to the winning state executives (elected or re-elected) in order to show a winning strategy, as well as to offer to the electorate the possibility of “close collaboration between the governors and the federal government.”
Along the same lines, Rousseff performed the first street action of the second round: a tour in an open car through the streets of the Baixa Fluminense, the area consisting of several municipalities adjoining Río de Janeiro, where there is a lack of services and there are serious security problems.
Rousseff offers water and drainage but above all she joins the program of the re-elected governor of Río de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral (of the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro, PMDB), who has become a celebrity in the country for creating the Unidades de Policia Pacificadora, which, they say, have managed to allow public safety forces to enter many favelas for the first time without shooting their way in. Cabral accompanies her on the tour, which is interrupted by traffic problems before they finish the planned 20 kilometers.
The candidate rebuked
Serra demonstrates his strategy in Brasilia. Surrounded by the chiefs of the six parties making up his coalition, the PSDB candidate pulls the corpse out of the coffin, which he had not wanted to do in the first round: he outdoes himself in praising Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s management. He says, for example, that it was the former president who, with his Plan Real, managed to contain inflation and to open a space “of dignity, of decorum in the public life” that had not been there until then.
Former president Itamar Franco, who made Cardoso a candidate, is in charge of the rebuke. He says the PSDB candidate should change his discourse and “be more Serra and less a product of marketing strategy.”
Or more Cardoso, he must have meant.
While they are polishing tactics for the new battle, which is in reality an old one because we are faced here with Lula versus Cardoso, Serra again praises the heretofore unreachable Marina Silva, the Partido Verde candidate who surprised everyone with her 20 percent of the vote.
On Friday the television campaign begins anew. In the first round, Dilma Rousseff had the advantage because as the candidate for ten parties, she had more time on the screen. Now they will have equal time.
Rousseff will again have Lula on the screen calling for a vote for his candidate. He can do nothing now but Serra has already promised a reform to avoid having presidents of the republic participating in electoral campaigns.
If he should win the runoff, it is posible he may make that into the law.
With the count from last Sunday finished, the lulista front holds 311 of 513 places in the Chamber of Deputies. In that body, the PT delegation will be the largest.
In the Senatre, the party doubled the number of its seats. Together with its allies, it took 40 of the 54 contested places.
If she wins, Dilma Rousseff will have “a supremacy her creator could hardly dream of,” says an editorial in today’s O Estado de São Paulo, the newspaper that in the home stretch of the campaign made its support for Serra explicit.
If she is elected, the editorial continues, there is a “danger” that “she will use her majority to crush the opposition in both chambers.”
And what about Pernambuco? Where doctors and family members were excommunicated, in the poor northeast of Brazil, candidate Rousseff captured 70 percent of the vote in the first round. So does the abortion factor exist?
*In 2000, the management of Petrobras, the government-owned petroleum company, proposed modernizing the corporate image by, among other changes, renaming it “Petrobrax.” The proposals were ridiculed by the public and rejected.