While women in Brazil already face severe restrictions in getting abortions, it could get a lot harder for them in the future. Abortion is illegal, with only three exceptions: to save the life of the woman, in cases of anencephaly (a severe fetal malformation), and when the pregnancy is a result of rape. Now, conservative politicians are trying to chip away at these limited rights.
On October 21, the Lower House of Congress’s Committee on Constitution and Justice approved bill 5069/2013, which would require rape victims to file a police report and undergo a forensic medical examination to access legal abortion services. The current law accepts the victim’s word as sufficient evidence to receive abortion care.
Eduardo Cunha, the ultra-conservative speaker of the House and author of the bill, accuses women of lying— saying they’ve been raped to obtain access to abortion services. Cunha believes this bill’s new requirements will prevent that. Medical professionals point out that women and girls are already subjected to considerable questioning before receiving care, and the professionals can often identify such “lies.”
Cunha’s bill ignores the horrific reality women and girls face. Violence against women is rampant in Brazil—a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds, and one is murdered every two hours. Debora Diniz, an anthropologist and researcher at Anis: Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender and an IWHC board member, points out that Cunha’s proposal will punish an alarming number of adolescents: over 36 percent of legal abortions in the country are for victims of sexual violence who are under 19 years of age.
The proposed legislation will also place further restrictions on a service that is already severely limited. In a country of nearly 200 million people, there are only 37 clinics that provide legal abortion services; these clinics are mostly clustered in and around urban centers such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Women or girls in rural areas or who live far from these clinics and lack the means to travel to them often resort to unsafe, clandestine procedures. In fact, the vast majority of the estimated 800,000 to 1 million abortions performed every year in Brazil are unsafe.
This bill also demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of sexual violence and the myriad of scenarios in which there is no physical indication of assault on the victim. It also goes against existing legislation that recognizes sexual violence as including all forms of nonconsensual sexual activity, even when there may not be physical evidence of violence.
The next step in the legislative process will be a vote in the full House, which will likely take place in the coming weeks. In the meantime, civil society has mobilized online and on the streets across Brazil. An online petition against bill has already garnered nearly 100,000 supporters, and activists in Rio have mounted protests against Cunha.
Brazilian women have a long fight before them, but they are making it clear that they will not tolerate further trampling of their reproductive rights.
Watch Anis’ response to the bill and Cunha’s accusation here.