Brazil: Government moves to restrict access to legal abortion

Issue 
A pro-abortion protest in Rio De Janeiro in 2018. The sign on the right reads: "We are women, not incubators".

The Brazilian health ministry has created new rules that restrict access to legal abortions stemming from rape, a risk to a woman’s life or foetal anencephaly, the only causes that allow for the procedure to be performed legally in the country.

The ministry published the rules on August 28, forcing health professionals to contact the police when patients ask to end a pregnancy that has resulted from rape.

“The physician or other health professional responsible for providing care when there is a suspicion of rape is obligated to contact local police authorities”, says the document, published in the government's official daily press release and signed by interim health minister, General Eduardo Pazuello.

The decision comes 12 days after religious fundamentalists tried to stop a legal abortion procedure from taking place on a 10 year old girl, who became pregnant after being repeatedly raped by her uncle. Furthermore, the new rules now require that a police report be presented when a legal abortion is requested.

Sonia Coelho, a member of the Sempreviva Feminist Organization (SOF), said the measure is a way of “criminalising and impeding” access to legal abortions, as the previous norms sought to facilitate care for victims of sexual assault. Many times, the victim is scared of pressing charges against the attacker, who is often a family member.

“We saw recently the girl say that she was frequently threatened by her uncle, and this is the reality for many women and girls who are raped and are scared of going to the police,” said Coelho.

“The fact that they could get an abortion without a police report made it easier for them to exercise their rights.”

The new measures are “a way of making it more difficult for girls and women to have access to legal abortions, as well as a way of intimidating health professionals. Though under certain circumstances abortions are lawful, many doctors are afraid of performing the procedure. This was implemented to make it more difficult for people to enjoy their rights, they have always wanted to do this”, Coelho said.

Opposition parties are also taking a stance. Federal congresswoman Jandira Feghali and another ten lawmakers filed a motion to suspend the new rules that “make legal abortions more difficult and aids in psychological violence against women”.

Obstetrician Olímpo Barbosa de Moraes Filho said the Brazilian Association of Gynecologists and Obstetricians is totally against the rule changes, saying they are nothing more than yet another policy from the Federal government “against women and their dignity”, seeing as they create even more barriers for those simply trying to exercise their rights.

Filho said forcing the victim to press charges is another form of “violence” since the state provides no security guarantees.

“The way it’s written, women will have no assistance. This means that the woman will press charges and then be thrown back into the community where her assailants are. This could be the end of some women’s lives. It’s an extermination policy”, he said.

The document also creates new hurdles when it comes to women being able to undergo legally sanctioned abortions. Among them is the requirement that doctors inform women of the possibility of seeing the foetus via an ultra-sound, and forcing them to sign a consent form with a list of the possible complications that may stem from an abortion.

Coelho sees this type of requirement as a form of “psychological torture” and victim-blaming. “There are health professionals who are against women having access to this right, and they may force them to see the foetus as a way of torturing them and dissuading them from having the procedure”, he said.

[Abridged from Brasil de Fato. Translated by Ítalo Piva.]

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