A ten-year-old girl aborts

Pregnancy alienates someone of that age from her own body; it is an extension of her perpetrator’s abusive acts. But extremists are not reasonable about either rights or science, and abortion inflames their feelings of hate

"Legal abortion saves lives," reads this sign outside a hospital in Recife, Brazil.
"Legal abortion saves lives," reads this sign outside a hospital in Recife, Brazil.DIEGO NIGRO / EFE

I imagined her before I saw her. To imagine her is to give myself over to her pain, to despair over her state of abandonment. How can we even imagine a ten-year-old girl being raped? Sadly, she was just that, a petite Black girl in flip-flops and a flower-print dress. I saw her from the back, a green stuffed frog in her arms, the sight made even more upsetting. It was reality in the form of a sentence: a poor Black girl, victim of child sexual abuse, waiting for a doctor to rescue her. In her hometown of São Mateus, in the state of Espírito Santo, Brazil, the doctors refused to follow the law. I don’t know what reasons they gave for their spinelessness. The girl crossed state borders and took her first flight to access what should have been her right. She wasn’t throwing a fit or asking for favors, only for her right to have an abortion because she had been raped and her life was at risk.

She is a little girl. I use the diminutive to stir the compassion of anti-abortion extremists. From the age of six to the age of 10, she was abused by an adult male. Her time of torture was only interrupted because her body matured, and the silence of her rape became the scandal of her pregnancy. A swollen belly on the child’s body first raised suspicions at a hospital. Within a week, extremists had appeared in every corner of Brazil eager to define the girl’s future, in keeping with their notions of how to live well. From an unknown Evangelical pastor and a government minister, to a female Bolsonaro supporter just out of jail, there were those who publicly decreed what was “right” for this girl, a victim of rape. As far as they were all concerned, only one thing was right: risking the girl’s life so their private abortion beliefs would not be transgressed.

There’s no rest for extremists; controversy arouses them. So it is our duty to unite behind this girl’s pain. Her torture cannot be forgotten

A judge was called in. Some found the judge’s ruling odd, since it talked about the “girl’s autonomy.” Yes, a ten-year-old girl has autonomy here. She cried when told she would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term and become a mother. Her grandmother echoed the child’s despair, but the spineless joined the extremists in questioning legal procedures and gestational timelines. Abortion is legal in three situations in Brazil, and the girl was living through two of them: she was a rape victim and the pregnancy put her life at risk. No other questions need to be asked: it is in the child’s best interest to have an abortion, as soon as possible and – to make the process as right and just as possible – without any public uproar.

A ten-year-old girl’s body is not prepared for pregnancy. Pregnancy alienates her from her own body; it is an extension of the perpetrator’s abusive acts. But extremists are not reasonable about either rights or science, and abortion inflames their feelings of hate. In this case they were quick to unite, whether to breach the girl’s right to legal confidentiality or to intimidate the physician who cared for her abused body. As I write this, the girl is having an abortion while extremists pray at the hospital door and assail her doctor, who watches on, arms folded across his chest. What bothers these extremists is not the torture suffered by this defenseless body in the past, but the belief that abortion is an immoral practice.

I keep thinking about the girl. Now her grandmother, the judge, the prosecutor and the doctor are in my thoughts as well, valiant people who came together to confront extremists and protect the anonymous girl. Dozens of anonymous women went to the hospital and formed a call-and-response chorus, declaiming the girl’s past torture to the extremists. But there’s no rest for extremists; controversy arouses them. So it is our duty to unite behind this girl’s pain. Her torture cannot be forgotten. The day after her abortion must be the day we once again knock on the door of Brazil’s Supreme Court to remind its 11 justices that this girl’s pilgrimage could have been avoided, had they shown the courage of justice and decriminalized abortion in Brazil. The right time is now, the instant when a petite little girl aborts because she was raped by an abusive man and mistreated by an extremist government. The lives of girls and women matter.

Debora Diniz is a Brazilian anthropologist and researcher at Brown University.

More information