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Brazil: Against Illegal Abortion or Against Women?

Abortion is a very complex issue in Brazil [1, 2], just as almost everywhere else in Latin America. It is considered a crime in the country, not punished only in proven cases of pregnancy caused by sexual abuse or that put the mother's live at risk. There is an effort by parliamentary representatives to change the law so that abortion can be accepted in a broader spectrum of cases [Pt], but it doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon due to the political power of the pro-life groups in Brazil.

Despite the law, it is believed that over 1,000,000 clandestine abortions take place in Brazil, and over 70,000 women die [Pt] of complications from clandestine abortion attempts, each year. In some states, like Bahia, female mortality rates are 5 times higher than the limit accepted by the World Health Organization, most are deaths caused by complications resulting from illegal abortions [Pt].

A Mulher Crucificada, por Eric Drooker. Usada sob permissão.Todos os direitos reservados.Crucified Woman, by Eric Drooker. Used under permission. All Rights Reserved.

Bury the dead. Prosecute the survivors.

Last November, more than 1,500 women faced charges [Pt] and in the Brazilian city of Campo Grande, 30 of them were indicted for the crime of abortion on the same day. Ironically, there is a rumor that some of these women will be sentenced to doing community work at childcare institutions. It is either this or going to jail. Elyana, from Rosa e Radical [Pt], vented her outrage in her blog [Pt]:

“Fizeram as contas? Em cerca de 4 horas e meia o juiz condenou 4 mulheres e acusou mais 1.070.
Nunca antes nessa minha vida vi a justiça trabalhar tão rápido.
As acusadas entraram com habeas-corpus, mas todos eles foram negados.”

“Can you do the math? In about 4 hours and a half, 4 women were indicted by a jury and 1,070 more faced charges. Never in my entire life have I seen [Brazilian] justice work so fast.
The accused [women] petitioned for habeas-corpus, but all the petitions were denied.”

In another post, Elyana quotes an interview [Pt] with Health Minister José G. Temporão for a popular science magazine about the issue. Temporão says that abortion is a public health issue and points out that opposition to its legalization is connected to gender issues. Below, are some of the words quoted by Elyana:

“[…] como as classes de menor renda não têm acesso à informação e aos métodos anticoncepcionais, são as mulheres pobres que realizam aborto em condições inseguras. Para as mulheres ricas, o aborto é uma questão que não se coloca. Elas fazem. Em condições seguras. Pagam R$ 2 000, R$ 5 000. As mulheres pobres não. Existe também uma questão de gênero. Eu pergunto: se os homens engravidassem, será que essa questão já teria sido resolvida? Como é que alguns setores têm coragem de dizer que essa é uma questão que não pode ser discutida? Não vamos discutir que as pessoas estão morrendo? A realidade está batendo na nossa cara.”

“[…] considering the poorer classes have no access to information and contraception methods, it is poor women who abort under unsafe conditions. To rich women, abortion is an unspoken issue. They do it under very safe conditions. [They] pay R$ 2,000 to R$ 5,000 for it (1 Brazil real = 0.41876 U.S. dollars on Dec. 13th). Poor women can't afford it. And there's a gender issue too. I ask you: if men could get pregnant, do you think this issue would be still unresolved? How can some sectors [of society] have the guts to say that this is an issue that shouldn't be discussed? People are dying and we won't discuss it? Reality is knocking at our door.”

Mothers of the World, by Eric Drooker
Mothers of the World, by Eric Drooker. Used under permission. All Rights Reserved.

An Inquiry into Illegal Women… I mean… into Abortion

The Minister's point of view, however, doesn't seem to be shared by many people in the Brazilian Government and blogosphere. On December 8th, Arlindo Chinaglia, president of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil, approved the creation of a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry [Pt] on Illegal Abortion in Brazil.

The Commission of Inquiry was petitioned by a large group of pro-life deputies lead by Luiz Bassuma, who collected more than 220 signatures of fellow congressmen to support its creation. Bassuma is a member of the Worker's Party (PT), the same party of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and was elected Federal Deputy by people of the state of Bahia. The Worker's Party, which decided in its last convention to take a pro-choice stand on abortion, is now threatening to expel Bassuma due to his condoning the Parliamentary Commission on Illegal Abortion.

Many self proclaimed pro-life bloggers welcomed Chinaglia's initiative.

Jorge Ferraz , from the Christian blog Deus Lo Vult [Pt], congratulates Arlindo Chinaglia for the installation of the Commission of Inquiry into Illegal Abortion in his newest post:

“Já não era sem tempo; desde fevereiro que se fala nisso. Rezemos para que o crime seja combatido, e o assassinato de crianças inocentes não seja tratado pela sociedade com indiferença e impunidade.”

“It's high time; from February they had been talking about it. Now we should pray that the crime is dealt with and murdering innocent children is no longer treated by society with indifference and impunity.”

Hermes Rodrigues Nery, Executive Officer at the National Movement for Brazil Without Abortion, blogs at O Possível e o Extraordinário [Pt] about the “perverse international interests in abortion in Latin America” [Pt]:

“Há décadas querem impor e generalizar a prática do aborto nos países da América Latina, torná-lo inclusive um direito humano, o direito da mulher torturar e matar um ser humano inocente e indefeso dentro de seu próprio ventre […] A questão do aborto está inserida no contexto do controle demográfico. Os especialistas que fundaram o Conselho Populacional da ONU (em 1952), entre eles, Warren Thompson, já indicavam o aborto como estratégia pragmática para conter e até diminuir as populações pobres do mundo. […] Como vemos, a “conjura contra a vida” é um processo de um poderoso sistema (cultural, político e econômico) que age sem que muitos não se dêem conta de estarem sendo vítimas de alienação e manipulação. Agora, temos a oportunidade – com a CPI do Aborto – recém-criada no Congresso Nacional – de apresentar documentos, relatórios e depoimentos para expor e erradicar essa “chaga social”, com isso, trabalhando na defesa do direito à vida dos milhões de excluídos, barbaramente torturados e assassinados, para atender a lógica perversa dos poderosos, que agem contrariando o princípio universal de que a plenitude da vida é um direito de todos e um bem para todos.”

“For decades there has been an effort to impose and generalize the practice of abortion in Latin American countries, and even to turn it into a human right, the right of women to kill an innocent being inside their own bodies […] The issue of abortion has always been inserted into the context of demographic control. Specialists that founded the ‘UN's Population Council (in 1952)’ [the blogger may be referring to the Commission on Population and Development], among them Warren Thompson, had already indicated abortion a pragmatic strategy to control and even downsize the poor populations of the world. […] As we can see, the ‘conjuncture against life’ is a process of a powerful (cultural, political and economical) system that works without many of us being aware that we are victims of alienation and manipulation. Now we have the opportunity  —  with the recently created National Congress Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Abortion — to present documents, reports and testimonials to expose and eradicate this ‘social illness', and thus, working on the defense of the right to life for millions of individuals who are excluded, barbarically tortured and murdered in compliance with the perverse logic of the powerful ones, who act against the universal principle of plenitude of life as everyone's right and an asset for all.”

Many bloggers disagree, and think that the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Abortion will only expose and intimidate women, and prey even more on woman's rights.

Alessandra from Blog Terribili [Pt] thinks Bassuma has something against women, and that the Commission of Inquiry is a religious move within the traditionally secular Brazilian State:

““CPI do Aborto” parece brincadeira de mau gosto. Vem do Bassuma, aquele deputado que é contra as mulheres, que parece que elege as mulheres como inimigas número um. Ele quer vê-las na cadeia, como criminosas, por terem cometido o terrível equívoco de tomar para si as rédeas de seu corpo e de sua vida. Ele se esquece de que o Estado é laico, que as pessoas têm direito de ter ou de não ter crenças e de que ele não pode impor sua fé religiosa sobre todos e todas.”

“The CPI on Abortion sounds like a joke in bad taste. It comes from Bassuma, that congressman who is against women, and who seems to choose women as his number one enemy. He wants to see them in jail, like criminals, for the terrible crime of themselves taking the reins to their bodies and lives. He forgets that the State is secular, and that people have the right to follow, or not, any faith, and that he can't impose his religious faith over everyone and every woman.”

Jandira Queiroz, a blogger and woman's rights activist who writes on the blog Sapataria-DF [Pt], thinks that the CPI on Illegal Abortion is a way to persecute women and prey on their rights [Pt]:

“Como sabem, no ano de comemoração dos 60 anos da Declaração Universal dos Direitos Humanos e às vésperas da realização da 11ª Conferência de Direitos Humanos, vivemos a intensificação da perseguição e criminalização das mulheres […] Mais do que nunca, precisamos denunciar a violação explícita aos direitos humanos das mulheres […] Os direitos das mulheres são direitos humanos!”

“As you all know, in the year we celebate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on the eve of the 11th Conference on Human Rights, we still live with the intensified pursuit and criminalization of women […] More than ever, we need to denounce the explicit violation of the human rights of women […]. Women's Rights are Human Rights!”

“This Hypocrisy Causes Hemorrhage. Legalize Abortion. Give us rights over our bodies. Global Women's March”. Picture of a banner at the WSF in Porto Alegre, Brazil, by Gabby de Cicco, used under a Creative Commons license.

Pedro Cross, on his Multi-Eu [Pt] blog, tells us a little bit more about the opposition of many Brazilian congresswomen to the Commission of Inquiry:

“A exposição da vida privada das mulheres é o principal argumento que a bancada feminina na Câmara dos Deputados apresenta para se posicionar contrária a instalação da CPI do Aborto. […] A deputadas se queixam de não terem sido ouvidas em um assunto que é de interesse da bancada e vão questionar o Presidente da Casa sobre o fato da CPI do Aborto ter sido instalada antes da CPI do Trabalho Infantil, que estava na frente na lista das comissões a serem instaladas.”

“Exposition of women's private lives is the main argument presented by the congresswomen in their stand against the installation of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Abortion. […] The congresswomen complain that they have never been heard on this issue which is of primary interest to them, and will question the President of the Chamber about the fact that the CPI on Illegal Abortion is to be begun before the CPI on Child Labor, which was ahead in the queue of commissions.”

A very complex issue

Some bloggers are very worried about the pro-choice movement in Brazil, which they see as an anti-life and homicidal crusade against the rights of the unborn children. Not only do they support the CPI on Illegal Abortion, but one of them also points out that our people “might die out just like the Russian population” if the Brazilian Government doesn't fight illegal abortion in Brazil, or, worse still, if the Government legalize it. Marcelo, from the blog Quadro Conservador ["Conservative Picture", in Portuguese] says:

“A Rússia é o paraíso dos abortistas. Como todo país comunista, o aborto é totalmente liberado e publicamente custeado. Como o ateísmo também foi incentivado durante o século em que era comunista, barreiras morais também não existem por lá. O resultado é este: um país desesperado diante do declínio de sua população. Os russos entrarão em extinção? Como havia dito, uma política cuja conseqüência é o declínio da população humana é má por natureza.”

“Russia is the abortionist paradise. Like all communist countries, abortion is completely liberated and arranged by the State there. As atheism was encouraged during the century of the communist era, they have no moral barriers either. The result is clear: a country desperate in the face of the decline of its population. Will Russians become extinct? As I've said, a policy whose consequence is a declining human population is evil by nature.”

Whether the Russian population are actually facing extinction, or if the Russian laws on abortion are the cause of such a decrease in numbers, is a matter of debate.

Helder Moraes, from Doa A Quem Doer [Pt], states that abortion is a crime usually committed by people “who lack moral, responsability and control over their sexual desires”, but supports abortion in cases of sexual violence:

”Sou CONTRA o aborto. Só sou a favor de aborto em caso de gravidez de RISCO e em caso de ESTUPRO, pois a mulher não pode ser obrigada a gerar um filho que ela NÃO DESEJOU, ainda mais vindo de um ato HEDIONDO desse. Do contrário, excluindo essas duas possibilidades, o aborto deve ser PROIBIDO SIM !!! Em vez de abortar, tem que se fazer a campanha:  “FECHEM AS PERNAS MULHERES”. O que falta é muita vergonha na cara. Falta MORAl, falta RESPONSABILIDADE, falta EDUCAÇÃO, falta tudo !!! Por isso, fazem filho de penca, a torto e a direito e depois ficam aí… lamentando e procurando clínicas clandestinas de aborto !!!”

“I'm against abortions. I can only acept abortions in the case of LIFE-THREATENING pregnancy or in cases of RAPE, because women can't be forced to bear a child they DON'T WANT, even more if the child comes from such a HEINOUS act. In all other cases, excluding these two possibilities, abortion SHOULD BE FORBIDDEN!!! Instead of aborting, they should adhere to the “CLOSE YOUR LEGS, WOMEN!” campaign. They're completely shameless. They lack MORALS, lack RESPONSABILITY, lack EDUCATION, they lack everything!!! That's why they create so many children and then keep lamenting and looking for clandestine abortion clinics”

Later in the post, Helder tells us what solution he believes would solve the problem:

“Sou a favor da esterilização OBRGATÓRIA de pessoas POBRES que tenham de 3 a mais filhos, e a favor de aborto somente em casos de gravidez de risco e de estupro.”

“I'm all in for FORCED sterilization of POOR people who already have 3 or more children, and I agree with abortion only in cases of high-risk pregnancy and rape.”

Many other bloggers and Orkut users agree with Helder's ideas, either by openly blogging and posting similar comments around the blogosphere, or by simply agreeing with and congratulating those who do so.

On the other hand, women's rights groups, such as Front for the Right of Abortion [Pt], state that abortion is a feminine right in the context of choices about their own bodies and lives. Márcia Silva, from the Marcia e suas leituras [Pt] blog, posts the Front's manifesto, partially quoted below:

“A criminalização das mulheres e de todas as lutas libertárias é mais uma expressão do contexto reacionário, criado e sustentado pelo patriarcado capitalista globalizado em associação com setores religiosos fundamentalistas. Querem retirar direitos conquistados e manter o controle sobre as pessoas, especialmente sobre os corpos e a sexualidade das mulheres. […] A maternidade deve ser uma decisão livre e desejada e não uma obrigação das mulheres. Deve ser compreendida como função social e, portanto, o Estado deve prover todas as condições para que as mulheres decidam soberanamente se querem ou não ser mães, e quando querem. Para aquelas que desejam ser mães devem ser asseguradas condições econômicas e sociais, através de políticas públicas universais que garantam assistência à gestação, parto e puerpério, assim como os cuidados necessários ao desenvolvimento pleno de uma criança: creche, escola, lazer, saúde. […] Nenhuma mulher deve ser presa, maltratada ou humilhada por ter feito aborto!
Dignidade, autonomia, cidadania para as mulheres!
Pelo fim da criminalização das mulheres e pela legalização do aborto!

“The criminalization of women and of all the libertarian struggles is another expression of the reactionary context created and supported by the global capitalist patriarchate, associated with fundamentalist religious groups. They want to take away conquered rights and keep their control over individuals, especially over women's bodies and sexuality. […] Motherhood should be a free and willing choice and not a women's duty. And it should be seen as a social function and, thus, the State should provide all the conditions for these women to sovereignly decide wheter they want or not to be mothers, and when. To those who want to assume motherhood, all the economical and social conditions should be guaranteed, through universal public policies that garantee assistance during the gestation, birth-giving and puerperal period, and all the care needed for the full development of a child: kindengartens, schools, entertainment, health. […] No woman should be jailed, mistreated or humiliated for aborting!
Dignity, autonomy, citizenship to all women!
[We fight] to end the criminalization of women and for the legalization of abortion!”

“Abortion should not be a crime”. Image by the Front for the Right of Abortion.

As we have seen above, abortion is a very complex issue in Brazil, mixing religious and secular morals, human rights, political infighting and gender issues. There is not much agreement even among those who fight for the right of choice or for the rights of the unborn. It's hard not to take sides in the ongoing, daily growing, discussion in Brazil. Outspoken pro-life and pro-choice bloggers and activists exchange bitter words, and some self-proclaimed pro-life activists go as far as to say on pro-life Orkut communities that every abortionist should die in a terrible way. Contradictory statements apart, we'll keep listening to the voices that speak about Human — women's or unborn fetuses's — Rights in Brazil, and hope for the best.

  • http://verbeat.org/blogs/posestranho Fábio

    Excellent article, Daniel. Makes us think what we should be doing about our rights in Brazil and aren´t doing until now.

  • Pingback: CPI do aborto « O Possível e O Extraordinário

  • http://lpereira.wordpress.com Luís Guilherme

    Fact is: abortion is currently a crime in Brazil. If you commit an abortion, you must be punished. You can argue for the right to abort your child, but you cannot argue for not enforcing against who, being abortion forbidden, makes it.

  • http://www.diasimdiatambem.wordpress.com Wagner Moura

    That 1,000,000 abortions is a very interesting number. Once we know that abortion in Brazil is a crime, so how can we belivie in such statistic? I mean, where these guys colect that numbers? Maybe at the illegal abortion “clinics”? I don’t think so.

  • Chrystal

    I am curious what the attitudes towards adoption are in Brazil. I know that here in the U.S. there are many agencies that support women through their pregnancies and then place their children in homes where they are very very wanted. Abortion is an economic issue. There are many women who feel they have no choice but to abort because they can’t afford a child. That is not freedom to choose either.

  • http://newalriadaexpress.blogspot.com Daniel Duende

    Hello, all.

    Fabio: thank you for your compliments. I think there’s a lot of reflection that must be done about this issue, not only in Brazil, but in the whole Latin America.

    Luís Guilherme: in fact you have a point, if we think in a very plain and simplistic way. But things are never this simple in the real world. What is being said by some women’s rights activists, besides the fight to legalize abortion in Brazil, is that the CPI is part of a patriarchal stratagem to intimidate not only women that made abortions in the past, but to silence activists and groups that fight for these rights. So, it’s not only about law enforcement. It’s about using the punitive powers of the government to tip the scales of a political struggle.

    Wagner Moura: These numbers are accepted by many official agencies, including the WHO and the Brazilian Ministry of Health. And I agree with you when you say that being abortion illegal, it’s hard to make a real picture of the abortions made in Brazil. Many abortions probably go unnoticed by the statistics, which would make the real figures bigger (not smaller) than this. Can you elaborate more on why do you think the numbers should be smaller?

    Chrystal: Abortion is a complex issue. Not only personal, not only economical, not only social, not only ethical or moral. It’s a complex context where you can’t simply extract a partial facet without losing the picture. It’s a very interesting statement that women have no real choice when they simply can’t raise the child they’re bearing. But one can’t say that’s the whole picture. Some women could, but just don’t want to, raise a child. Others surely couldn’t, in face of their economical and social situations, raise a child, but they passionately want and try to. So, in an economical point of view, it’s not a matter of choice. But ultimately, when you take a look at the whole picture, one can’t say it’s not a matter of ultimate choice. And maybe a choice that could not be taken from the individual.

    Best,
    Daniel Duende

  • http://newalriadaexpress.blogspot.com Daniel Duende

    To the Portuguese language readers and commentators:

    The Portuguese language version of this article is already published at Global Voices em Português.

    I’m counting on your participation and opinions on the ensuing debate there too.

    Best,
    Daniel Duende

  • http://bernyblog.wordpress.com bernardo parrella

    impressive post, daniel, thanks! this situation reminds me of a similar scenario in italy, when we fought for (divorce and later) abortion depenalization in early ’70s

    and both in italy and brazil (and south america) the catholic church power was-is quite dramatic

    but in both cases, and all over the world, we’ll never stress enough another important fact: this is also a “class” issue, rich vs. poor, since rich people/women can and will always have abortions in a medically safe & caring environment, despite being “illegal”

    and no matter how many stringent laws, parliamentary commissions or patrolling police a state could establish, abortions will happen anyway – even if it’s an emotionally painful situation for any woman

    IMHO, those are realities that require any modern society to avoid bigotism, false ideology or supposedly faith-based assumptions and instead to openly deal with the issue by legalizing abortion here & now

  • Pingback: Global Voices Online » Brazil: On the Vatican’s condemnation of raped-child’s abortion

  • Pingback: Brazil - On the Vatican’s condemnation of raped-child’s abortion « Equal Parenting @ Ration Shed

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