Brazilian women protesting abortion ban with signs
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Women may lose their abortion rights in Brazil – even if they are raped

A new constitutional amendment aims to roll back Brazilian women’s reproductive rights. We can help them by joining in the fight, says Heloisa Righetto

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By Heloisa Righetto on

Imagine 18 white middle-aged men yelling, “Life, yes! Abortion, no!”  while throwing their arms in the air. If this image isn’t scary enough, imagine these men are members of a special commission within congress, who just approved a proposal to amend the constitution criminalising abortion – even in the case of rape.

This happened last week in Brazil – a country known for its upbeat people and wonderful landscapes. Since the impeachment of its first female president, Dilma Rousseff, last year, it is now also known for its plunge into a dystopian, Handmaid’s Tale-like wave of conservatism.

The amendment proposal – nicknamed “Trojan Horse” (as it was first created with the objective of extending maternity leave for mothers who gave birth to premature babies) – will outlaw abortion rights even in cases that are allowed today, namely rape, if the life of the mother is at risk or if the foetus is diagnosed with anencephaly. However, a group of congressmen linked to religious organisations was able to include an addendum that says that “life begins at conception”. By making this small change, these men are taking the country back to before 1940, when the right to abortion in the aforementioned situations was added to the criminal code. It’s important to highlight that there was one women in the special commission, Erika Kokay, from Brazil’s Workers’ Party, and she was the only one who voted against the proposal.

Around one million clandestine abortions happen in Brazil every year and a quarter of women who undergo unsafe procedures end up in hospital due to complications

Although this is a proposal that still needs to be approved by a majority in Congress, the future looks bleak – this is the same congress that passed a labour reform allowing pregnant and breastfeeding women to work in unhealthy conditions. And the same congress that decided – twice – to bury grave accusations against President Michel Temer, one of the men who orchestrated Rousseff’s impeachment last year.

Around one million clandestine abortions happen in Brazil every year and a quarter of women who undergo unsafe procedures end up in hospital due to complications according to Brazil’s national health system, SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde). But archaic laws and misogynistic mindsets ignore the alarming statistics and refuse to accept that this is a matter of public health. Abortion is still a huge taboo in the country, even though one in five women will have one by the time they hit 40. No one talks about it, albeit everyone probably knows a woman who has been through it.

“I don’t regret having done it, but silence oppresses me – that’s why I decided to tell my story,” said one of the anonymous women whose experience with abortion was published on a tumblr created by two Brazilian women’s rights NGOs (Think Olga and Anis Bioética) to raise awareness about the procedure. “I want to help in anyway I can,” she added. “Even if this means telling my story for the first time.”

While many people around the world think of Brazil as a fun and “liberated” country (thanks, carnival), the truth is that, when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, we are stuck in the past. Like many other countries, this isn’t an issue for privileged women who can afford to have an abortion in private clinics or buy the pills from a trustworthy pharmacist.

This is not an isolated event. In September, an art exhibition exploring sexual and gender diversity was closed after protests from right-wing movements claimed artworks were inciting “zoophilia, pedophilia and hate towards Christianism”. (They weren’t.) And, just last week, American philosopher and feminist scholar Judith Butler faced a backlash when visiting the city of São Paulo as a guest speaker at an event. Protesters held bibles and burned a doll dressed as a witch with Butler’s photograph on it.

I can’t help but think of Simone de Beauvoir’s famous words: “Never forget that all it would take is a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question. These rights are never acquired and you will have to fight for it throughout your life.” It pains me to write about my home country with less than joyful news, but at the same time I feel the need to ask for support from my sisters all over the world.

Yesterday, November 13, several marches and protests happened all over the country against this horrid proposal – and you can help by sharing Brazilian women’s voices on your social media. Search #todascontra18 and #todascontrapec181 and join us in this fight.

@helorighetto

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Photo: Getty Images
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Abortion
Sexual abuse
Brazil

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