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Will Brazil’s Congress Turn Its Back on Women and Girls?

New Law Would Ban Abortion in Cases of Rape, Health Risk

People participate in the SlutWalk protest on Copacabana Beach, where pope Francis will celebrate mass at night, in Rio de Janeiro, July, 2013. The sign reads "No more criminalization of women, abortion is a right."  © REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Hundreds of women have died in Brazil from unsafe abortion in recent years. Yet on Wednesday evening, 18 members of a committee in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies – all men – voted in favor of a dangerous new constitutional amendment that, if enacted, could drive those numbers higher. The only vote against was a woman’s.

The new amendment would prohibit abortion under any circumstances. The current law in Brazil allows abortion if the life of the woman is at risk, if the pregnancy resulted from rape, or if the fetus has anencephaly – a fatal congenital brain disorder.

The amendment would need super-majority votes in both houses of Congress. But if it passes, women and girls who do not wish to continue their pregnancies because it threatens their health or resulted from rape will either be forced to continue those pregnancies against their will, or will resort to terminating them clandestinely. In many situations, both choices could mean risking their health and lives. The latter could mean possible prison sentences for making fundamental decisions about their health.

My colleagues and I interviewed nearly 100 women and girls in Brazil for a recent report on the impacts of the Zika epidemic. Many had unplanned pregnancies and said they felt desperate. Doctors told us they had treated women in the last year with serious health complications from risky and ineffective abortion methods.

Two cases before the Supreme Court could expand access to safe and legal abortion. Brazil’s Congress, which is moving in the opposite direction, should avoid the path of countries with complete abortion bans, such as Nicaragua.

Two weeks ago, I met with activists in Nicaragua, who told me how – in a country with high rates of domestic and sexual violence – adolescent girls, survivors of rape, and poor women are the ones who suffer most from the abortion ban. They described the cruelty of forcing women and girls to continue pregnancies that resulted from rape, or carry to term pregnancies when there is no hope the fetus could survive outside the womb.

Brazil’s Congress should protect women’s health and rights and reject this inhumane proposal.



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