View from Brazil

While Argentina wins abortion rights, in Brazil even a pregnant 10-year-old is threatened and coerced to give birth, writes Leonardo Sakamoto.

A 'Women United Against Bolsonaro' solidarity demonstration in London, 2018. Credit: Esdras Beleza/Flickr

Argentina’s Senate recently approved a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion until the 14th week of pregnancy, for whatever reason.

In Brazil, a 10-year-old child living in the town of São Mateus, who had been raped since she was six by her own uncle, received death threats from religious fundamentalists for wanting to end the pregnancy that endangered her life. In addition, President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration tried to convince the family to avoid abortion.

Argentina has realized that state recognition of the right to safe abortion would prevent thousands of deaths from clandestine or precarious procedures. In Brazil, the Supreme Court is discussing a claim that might decriminalize abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy, but no date has been set for the decision.

In Congress, ultraconservative lawmakers promote bills to criminalize guidance on legal abortion or reduce the list of situations in which abortion is technically legal in Brazil: rape, risk to the mother’s life, or if the embryo lacks a brain.

But even in the cases provided for by law, poor Brazilian women seeking to terminate pregnancy face violence from many quarters, including judges and doctors who deny them abortion on ideological grounds.

With the change in Argentina, Jair Bolsonaro’s administration began to discuss ways to prohibit Brazilian women from crossing the border to have a termination there, safely without being punished – even though the country has not yet discussed access for foreigners to the procedure.

In Uruguay, where abortion is legal without conditions, the woman needs to have lived in the country for at least one year. In Colombia, abortion is allowed in cases of risk to a woman’s physical and mental health, which significantly increases the number of legal possibilities. Foreigners, including Brazilians, have turned to Colombian private clinics.

Travel costs, however, are not low. Private Brazilian clinics already perform clandestine abortions safely for wealthier families. As usual, the problem is lack of structure for poor women. In South America, French Guiana and Guyana also allow abortion.

Maíra Kubik Mano, a gender and diversity researcher and professor at the Federal University of Bahia, observes that the change in Argentina was only possible as a result of the combination of powerful, long-term mobilization by women and the election of a progressive government and parliament in which 40 per cent of members are female. This puts Argentina 19th out of 191 on the UN’s gender representation list. Despite being the majority of the population in Brazil, women make up only 14.5 per cent of Congress, which places the country in an embarrassing 140th position on that same list.

The prominence gained by cases like that of the raped 10-year-old girl proves that we are increasingly closer to a dystopia – like the TV series The Handmaid’s Tale – than to a rights-based society.

Shortly after the vote, Bolsonaro posted on his Twitter account: ‘I deeply regret the lives of Argentine children are now subject to being snuffed out in their mothers’ wombs with state consent. My government and I will do everything we can to guarantee that abortion is never approved on our land.’ He is preparing to use the issue in his campaign for re-election in 2022.

Argentina might be experiencing an economic catastrophe. But, in terms of civilization, it continues to be ahead of Brazil.