RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil's health minister accused the Roman Catholic Church on Thursday of an "extreme" and "inadequate" position in opposing an abortion for a 9-year-old girl suspected to have been raped by her stepfather.
Doctors in the northeastern city of Recife performed the abortion on Wednesday after deciding that the girl could have died if her pregnancy with twins was allowed to continue. According to media reports, the girl was nearly four months pregnant.
The Catholic Church's archbishop for the area criticized the decision as against "the law of God" and excommunicated her mother, the doctors and other people involved in the abortion.
"I believe the position of the church is extreme, radical and inadequate," Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao said on a government radio program.
"I am shocked by the radical position of this religion which, wrongly saying it is defending a life, puts another life in danger that is as important as any other."
Temporao, who has frequently challenged the church on issues from abortions to the government's supply of free condoms, defended the doctors' decision to perform the abortion, saying they had acted "strictly within the law."
Abortion is illegal in Brazil, which has more Catholics than any other nation, but exceptions are allowed in cases of rape and when the mother's life would be endangered by giving birth.
"The law of God is above any human law," Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, the archbishop of Olinda and Recife, said on newspaper O Globo's website.
Officials at the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, which represents the church's interests in the country, were not immediately available for comment.
Olimpio Moraes, one of the doctors involved in the abortion, said that the girl's circumstances had met both exceptions to the country's abortion ban.
"As doctors, we could not allow a girl of 9 to suffer like this or until she paid with her own life," he said.
The pregnancy was discovered last week when the girl complained of pain. Doctors said her life was at risk because of her young age and because she was pregnant with twins.
Globo reported police as saying that the stepfather had been arrested and had admitted sexually abusing the girl since she was 6 years old.
Despite the girl's young age, she wouldn't have been the youngest person to become pregnant. A 5-year-old Peruvian is recorded in case annals as having given birth in 1939.
Reporting by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Cynthia Osterman