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 Lawmakers Elect Rodrigo Maia as House Speaker

Paulo Trevisani – The Wall Street Journal, 07/14/2016

BRASÍLIA—A roadblock to economic reform in Brazil was removed Thursday, when the lower house of the country’s Congress elected a new speaker who could help interim President Michel Temer push his agenda.

Federal Deputy Rodrigo Maia was elected with 285 votes in the 513-member Chamber of Deputies, as the house is known. Mr. Maia, a 46-year-old representative from the right-wing Democrats party, or DEM, is largely seen as someone willing to advance the administration’s interests in Congress.

“This chamber needs dialogue,” Mr. Maia said in a speech before the final vote, which happened in the early morning. “Brazil can only overcome its crisis if the house overcame its own crisis.”

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Leader of Brazil’s Rousseff Impeachment Resigns From Top Job

Associated Press – The New York Times, 07/07/2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — The man who led efforts to impeach Brazil’s suspended President Dilma Rousseff resigned on Thursday as speaker of the lower house of congress, but kept the congressional seat that could help shield him from corruption charges.

Brazil’s top court already had suspended Eduardo Cunha from his duties over allegations of obstructing justice and corruption, including holding Swiss bank accounts worth millions of dollars in bribes.

Cunha kicked off the proceedings against Rousseff in December 2015, accusing her of violating fiscal laws, which the embattled leader denies.

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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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The Political Future of Brazil’s ‘Frank Underwood’

Marina Koren – The Atlantic, 06/15/2016

Two months ago, Eduardo Cunha was leading the impeachment movement that would temporarily unseat Dilma Rousseff, banishing her to the presidential palace to prepare for a trial while her vice president took over her job. Now, Cunha is facing his own fight for his political future.

Brazil’s congressional ethics committee on Tuesday voted in favor of removing Cunha from his seat in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil’s congress. The decision arose from corruption allegations against Cunha, a member of the now-ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) who has been described as Rousseff’s “political nemesis.” In May, just one week before Rousseff’s decisive impeachment vote, the country’s Supreme Court suspended Cunha from his position as speaker of the house, at the request of the attorney general, for using his high-ranking role to obstruct ethics committee hearings and intimidate lawmakers.

Cunha said he would appeal the decision to another congressional committee. The full chamber will now vote on the ethics committee’s recommendation, which would require an absolute majority of members—257 of 513—to pass. If legislators vote to kick Cunha out, the chamber would hold elections for a new speaker; Waldir Maranhao, a member of the Progressive Party and a Cunha ally, currently holds the position on an interim basis. And Cunha, dubbed the “Frank Underwood of Brazil” by Western media for spearheading House of Cards-esque impeachment proceedings, would be barred from running for political office for eight years.

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Brazil Congressional Committee Vote Deals Blow to Ex-Speaker

The Associated Press – ABC News, 06/14/2016

One of Brazil’s most powerful men was dealt a major blow on Tuesday, when a legislative ethics committee voted in favor of a motion to strip the former speaker of Congress’ lower house of his mandate over allegations he lied when he denied possessing foreign bank accounts.

Eduardo Cunha has been regarded as one of Brazil’s most skilled political operators, and even though he’s been beset by corruption allegations and was removed from the post of speaker, he still wields considerable influence in Congress. It came as little surprise, then, that Tuesday’s long-awaited vote by the Chamber of Deputies’ ethics committee was a nail-biter. Many observers predicted that Cunha’s supporters would succeed in defeating the measure.

The 11-9 result hinged on one single vote, that of Rep. Tia Eron from the northeastern Bahia state. The vote was postponed last week after Eron failed to show up to the committee.

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This Woman Holds the Key to the Fate of Brazil

Mac Margolis – Bloomberg, 06/13/2016

Until a couple of weeks ago, not many Brazilians had heard of Eronildes Vasconcelos. Fellow parishioners in Salvador, her home town in northeast Brazil, know the churchgoing 44-year-old widowand mother of two as a junior member of the country’s growing evangelical Christian congressional caucus.

But thanks to the unlikely role she’s been called on to play in shaping the outcome of Brazil’s widening political corruption scandal, Vasconcelos has become a national celebrity of sorts. Her every hosanna now galvanizes public attention from Twitter to the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia.

Vasconcelos — or Aunt Eron, as she prefers — is no power broker. She just happens to sit on the congressional ethics committee, where she’s wound up with the decisive vote on the fate of one of the country’s most notorious political operators, speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha.

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Understanding the political crisis in Brazil

Lisa Desjardins, Paulo Sotero, Uri Friedman, Monica de Bolle and Brian Winter – NPR, 05/03/16

Last month in Brazil, the lower house of the country’s National Congress voted to impeach the president, Dilma Rousseff. There are the legal grounds for the move — alleged cooking of the government books. And then there are the political motives, which as many observers have pointed out, are what’s really driving the impeachment. Those have to do with a massive corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state owned oil company. Add to that a severe recession, and many Brazilians are not happy with how their country is being run. Guest host Lisa Desjardins gets an update on the political crisis in Brazil from our panel of guests.

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Justice Orders Brazilian Lawmaker Behind Rousseff’s Impeachment to Step Down

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 05/05/2016

A Brazilian Supreme Court justice ruled on Thursday that the powerful lawmaker who orchestrated the effort to impeach President Dilma Rousseff must step down as he faces graft charges, ratcheting up tensions in the country.

And in a further blow to Brazil’s scandal-plagued political establishment, Vice President Michel Temer, the man preparing to take control of the government from Ms. Rousseff, had his conviction on charges of violating limits on campaign financing upheld earlier this week, a ruling that makes him ineligible to run for elected office for eight years.

The rulings are not expected to save Ms. Rousseff’s presidency. Support for her ouster remains strong in the Senate, which is preparing to vote next week on whether to remove her from office and put her on trial over claims of budgetary manipulation. But the decisions reflect the potential for greater political turmoil in the country.

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