Erika Kokay was the only member in a special committee of Brazil’s congress to vote against a constitutional amendment last week banning abortion under all circumstances. Eighteen fellow deputies, all men, voted in favor. They celebrated by chanting, “Yes to life, no to abortion!” The amendment, if enacted, would ban abortion even for pregnancies resulting from rape, or when the life of the woman is in danger.
This week thousands of women took to the streets in 14 Brazilian cities to tell congress to vote this amendment down. In São Paulo, I joined more than 7,000 demonstrators, including my sister and a friend pushing her 2-year-old boy in a stroller. We held hand-made signs reading, “All Against 18,” “Free Womb,” and chanted, “For women’s lives.”
We were there to remind the congressmen who had shouted, “Yes to life,” that they had ignored the 47,000 women around the world who die each year due to unsafe abortions, according to World Health Organization data.
The situation in Brazil is no different, where more than 900 women have died from unsafe abortions since 2005. Doctors told Human Rights Watch about treating women who used dangerous methods to induce abortions, such as placing water purification chemicals in their vaginas.
An estimated 416,000 women had abortions in 2015 in Brazil, the vast majority of which were illegal.
Brazilian law allows abortion only 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.
Eliminating even the very limited instances where abortion is legal in Brazil would only endanger more women and girls, especially the poor, who are most likely to resort to unsafe procedures that can lead to hemorrhage, infection, and death.
Instead of banning abortion, congress should make it much more widely accessible.