Brazil’s Deadly Bill Against Women

By Fernando Haddad Moura, Editor and Writer at Brazil Talk

[4 minute read]

Every day 4 women die due to complications in abortions in Brazil. Estimates put the global number at around 50 thousand deaths annually, placing Brazil as one of the countries with the highest abortion mortality rates. The vast majority of these deaths are a result of clandestine procedures. Since abortion is still criminalized in Brazil young and poor women who cannot afford to seek out a private, willing doctor to perform safe surgeries. Currently, women can choose to abort if any of the following hold true: (i) the pregnancy is a result of rape; (ii) if it poses risks to the mother’s life; (iii) or if the fetus is anencephalic. Reasons that are legitimate due to their cruel and unfair conditions. Unfortunately, the word choose cited above may soon no longer exist. Last week a special commission of the Brazilian House of Representatives approved a proposed constitutional amendment (PEC 181) that criminalizes all forms of abortion, including the aforementioned conditions. The commission passed Congressman Jorge Tadeu Mudalen’s proposal initially focused on increasing maternity leave for mothers with premature babies. After the approval by 18 to 1 (the only vote against was from a woman), the bill now goes to the floor where an increasingly conservative and religious House, composed 91% of men, will decide the future of millions of Brazilian women. It is urgent that pressure be made by society so the bill is rejected and Brazil does not go back to the list of only five countries in the world where abortion is prohibited. After all, it’s women’s bodies, their burden and it should be their decision.

Abortion in Brazil is one of the most controversial topics and has a clear divide among the population. A study from 2015 shows that 72% don’t approve abortion in any case and think it should be a crime; but when asked again about the case of rape, 44% were in favor of abortion. Controversial as it may be, the fact is that thousands of women undergo abortion every year and the majority of these are done in clandestine clinics or through the use of pills and plants, putting their lives at risk. In 2015 alone 1,664 died in hospitals after attempting illegal abortions and over 192 thousand were hospitalized due to complications in the attempt of abortion.

With all the research and evidence, it should be clear that this issue is a public health concern and policymakers should treat it as such. Sadly it’s not, while Brazil’s constitution determines that the state be secular, religion and politics are blended and intertwined. In the 2014 elections, 202 of the elected Congressmen joined the Evangelical Parliamentary Alliance, representing  34% of the Brazilian Congress. This powerful group, along with other Catholic politicians, have propagated conservative views in an already conservative congress. Using religion as their ruler, they have also voted against pro-gay legislation, and in favor of a controversial law to reduce the criminal age in Brazil. The predominantly white, old men seem to repeatedly reject scientific-based evidence and mix religion with politics, aggravating the lives of the poorer Brazilian population.

While the discussion gravitates largely around ethical and religious issues, Congress should acknowledge the elevated cost of treatments for complications stemming from clandestine abortions. Brazil’s Unified Health System (SUS) shows that in 2014, R40,4 million (~$12 million dollars) were spent on surgeries for women that had termination complications. Most post-complication effects tend to diminish families’ economic power. A study in Uganda shows a direct correlation between complications during abortions, reductions in productivity and a deterioration of economic circumstances. Such evidence should be enough for politicians to focus on providing sound health care policies rather than voting against half of its population

Finally, the issue is usually debated and brought up by women groups, social movements related to women, and NGO’s focused on women’s rights. Academic research falls short on studying how abortion affects men. It is, however, (way past) time we, as men, step up (together with women) against this horrific bill and join them in defending their rights. Our silence and lack of interest in the subject enables those we’ve elected to continue to push for this bill. Women don’t choose to have an anencephalic baby, it’s not their fault the pregnancy can be life-threatening to them and they obviously don’t choose to be raped (although culpability of the causes of rape are still often absurdly attributed to them).  Our role should be to support our partners, daughters, mothers, friends, and all women to exercise their rights when it comes to abortion. Abortions are decisions not lightly taken, and as such, the right to call the shots should be left to those ultimately affected and with the heavy burden to carry: WOMEN.

Pressure Congressmen to vote against the bill, sign the Avaaz petition here.

Cover Image Credit: Agência Brasil/Fernando Frazão