Where Policy Does Not Fully Address Reality – Abortion in Brazil

Therese Kuester – The Brazil Institute, 07/21/2016

Politicians promote, or at least have on their agendas, policies that better the conditions of their own kind. This is often the rationale for people’s assumption that a female president looks to improve the condition of women in her country, especially on issues concerning reproductive choices, access to education, political representation and sexual assault. Brazil is one of a handful of nations that boasts, at least for now, a female president. As President Dilma Rousseff undergoes her impeachment trial, which is most likely to end in August with her removal from office  and with a recent Zika outbreak highlighting reproductive concerns, it seems to be appropriate to ask what this female president has done for her fellow women, with abortion being a central issue.

In what Brazilian news network, O Globo, referred to as Dilma Rousseff’s first public  stance on abortion, they paint the female President as a strong advocate for providing abortion in government operated clinics of the “Sistema Unico de Saude” (SUS) in the case of rape. Indeed, in 2013 President Rousseff supported the approval of a bill (Lei 12.845) that ensures that women who have been raped or assaulted receive immediate care and permission for abortion through state care. According to the President’s press secretary at the time, during the Worker’s party’s thirteen year tenure there was a reduction in deaths due to botched abortions thanks to an expansion of public health services for women. This information was published in a report by the government think tank IPEA (Instituto de Pesquisa Economica Aplicada) report using the national Health Ministry’s data from their Sistema de Informacoes sobre Mortalidade (SIM) which Globo compares with other statistics, showing that there was not as drastic of a drop in the maternal mortality as Rousseff seems to focus on.  Even so, while Rousseff claims that there has been a 54% decline in maternal deaths in 22 years, 1.5 thousand Brazilian women still die each year due to improperly performed abortions. Dilma’s support of the bill contradicts a 2010 campaign promise she made to religious lobbyists, promising she would not seek to alter abortion legislation.

While O Globo examines Rousseff’s accomplishments, they do not provide general statistics on abortions or an explanation of current  legislation. Abortion, as in many countries in Latin America except for Uruguay and Cuba, has been illegal in Brazil since the development of the 1940 penal code (WSJ 2016). There are only three exceptions: a threat to the mother’s life,  evidence that the baby has anencephaly (absence of brain development) and in the case of rape. If a woman seeks an abortion, and is not included in these exceptions, she can be imprisoned for one to three years. Furthermore, if the woman is harmed by the abortion provider, the prison sentence given to the person who performed the abortion can be up to four years and to six if the woman dies. In an article published in March of 2016, Reuters describes how these punishments are enforced and often result in the raid of abortion clinics and the arrest of doctors.

Anti-abortion legislation is strongly defended by religious lobbies, which also advocate for complete criminalization of abortion. Since 1940, when the Brazilian penal code was enacted, the Catholic Church has been very vocal against any type of legalization of abortion. In recent years,  Evangelical Churches have often taken the lead on anti-abortion campaigns . Almost two thirds of Brazilians identify as Catholic, and while this percentage has been in decline in recent years, millions of Brazilians have become members of the Evangelical Church. Several senior politicians, such as Congressman Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, have been vocal about the need to get rid of the exceptions, and want to pave the way to completely criminalize abortions. In the past 70 years 53 abortion-related bills have been tabled by religiously-minded politicians and public support for current abortion laws remains high at almost 82%. Out of the plethora of political parties, Dilma’s Worker’s Party and the Communist Party are the only two to have spoken about legislation of abortion as a matter of public health.

Despite these strict rules and religious views, women have not been stopped from seeking abortions. Over half (56%) of unwanted pregnancies end with abortion. This adds up to around one million abortions being performed in Brazil each year. Many of these abortions are performed in clandestine conditions or are self-induced, with the Guttmacher Institute reporting that at least 10% of pregnancy-related deaths were because of such unsafe abortions, and 760,000 women are hospitalized each year for treatment from complications. According to the Guttmacher report, 26% of all abortions are self-induced, with 26% of respondents reporting self-administering drugs, compared to the 18% who use the mainstream medication called Misoprostol. Many women responded that they chose this method because physicians and drugs are expensive and hard to come by.

Ato em defesa da descriminalização do aborto

Véspera do Dia Nacional de Redução da Mortalidade Materna, feministas em ato na Praça XV, defendem a descriminalização do aborto e destaca o alto índice de mortes em abortos clandestinos (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

While O Globo says that President Dilma Rousseff takes credit for an increase in access to safer abortions, the data could suggest that there needs to be an expansion on access to abortions beyond those who qualify under the three exceptions. With over one million abortions each year, and a probable increase in the demand with the threat of microcephaly due to Zika, many woman could take extreme measures to terminate a pregnancy which could turn into a public health crisis.

Therese is a staff intern at the Brazil Institute

 

Brazil’s Olympic Greeting: Welcome to Hell

Beth McLoughlin – U.S. News, 07/18/2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — In Brazil’s oldest favela of Providencia, Diego Deus lives with his wife and 6-month-old son. He can walk to work at the Museum of Modern Art, a gleaming new addition to the city’s port zone that has been redeveloped in advance of this summer’s Olympic Games.

Unemployment has been steadily climbing in Brazil, a country in its worst recession since the 1930s, but Deus is one of many Rio residents who has found work directly or indirectly as a result of the Games. Proud of his neighborhood, he resisted being moved when 200 people were evicted to renovate Providencia.

“They wanted to take my house out [to build a cable car], but I resisted,” Deus says. “I don’t see myself living anywhere else. It might seem strange to say it, but I feel safe here, I can go out and leave my door open. People look out for you.”

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Brazil Is Confronting an Epidemic of Anti-Gay Violence

Andrew Jacobs – The New York Times, 07/05/2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — The assailant struck as Gabriel Figueira Lima, 21, stood on a street two weeks ago in a city in the Amazon, plunging a knife into his neck and speeding off on the back of a motorcycle, leaving him to die.

A few days earlier, in the coastal state of Bahia, two beloved teachers,Edivaldo Silva de Oliveira and Jeovan Bandeira, were killed as well, their charred remains found in the trunk of a burning car.

Late last month, it was Wellington Júlio de Castro Mendonça, a shy, 24-year-old retail clerk, who was bludgeoned and stoned to death near a highway in a city northwest of Rio.

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Mutilated body washes up on Rio Olympic beach volleyball venue

Reuters/The Guardian, 06/29/2016

Parts of a mutilated body have washed up on the sands of Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro just meters from where beach volleyball athletes will compete in the upcoming Olympics.

The discovery is the latest to unnerve the city as it grapples with rising crime, a recession and exhausted state finances at a time when it hoped to be celebrating the first Olympics ever held in South America.

It was unclear Wednesday afternoon what conditions may have led to the mutilated body but a policeman standing guard by a security perimeter confirmed its existence to Reuters.

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Brazilian First Responders: “You Will Not Be Safe in Rio”

Darek Michael Wajda – NBC News, 06/28/2016

Less than two months before the Olympics, Brazilian first responders made a statement intended for an international audience.

Upon arrival to the Rio de Janeiro — Galeão International Airport, police, firefighters, and other first responders held signs that read, “Welcome to Hell.”

First responders have said they are fed up with late paychecks and poor working conditions and have concerns for the public’s safety.

Abortion Requests ‘Double’ in Brazil due to Zika Concerns: Study

Conor Gaffey – Newsweek, 06/23/2016

Requests for abortions have doubled in Brazil and Ecuador due to fears about the Zika virus, according to a study.

Researchers found that demand for terminations also increased in other Latin American countries affected by the virus, which has been strongly linked to microcephaly—a condition where children are born with underdeveloped brains and small heads.

A Zika outbreak in Brazil in 2015 has infected around 40,000 people, with estimates of unconfirmed cases rising to almost 150,000. The virus, which originated in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda, has spread to a total of 39 countries and territories, most of which are in Latin America, where abortion remains illegal in many countries.

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Rio’s Forgotten Health Crisis

Anne Vigna – Americas Quarterly, 06/16/2016

As Rio de Janeiro prepares to receive hundreds of thousands of tourists and athletes from over 200 countries for the Olympic Games, health authorities are working overtime to combat the spread of the Zika virus. But beyond Zika, the city hides shockingly high rates of tuberculosis, especially in its favelas.

The infectious lung disease, not common in Europe since the 18th and 19th centuries, killed a total of 840 people in Rio de Janeiro state in 2014, including 440 in the city itself.

That’s the highest number in any of the country’s 27 state capital cities, amounting to 6.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014.

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