Bill re­strict­ing Brazil abor­tions in­spires anger

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

RIO DE JANEIRO: It is a dis­turb­ing scene: A Brazil­ian rape vic­tim ar­rives at the hos­pi­tal seek­ing an abor­tion, but first she must prove she was raped and un­dergo in­va­sive ques­tion­ing. That is the pro­posal con­tained in a bill in­tro­duced by the con­tro­ver­sial speaker of Brazil’s lower house, Eduardo Cunha, that has sparked protests by out­raged women across the coun­try.

An­swer­ing ral­ly­ing cries is­sued on so­cial net­works, thou­sands of women have taken to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia call­ing for the bill to be shelved and for the ouster of Cunha, an Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian who is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated on cor­rup­tion charges. “The crim­i­nal is Cunha! Le­gal abor­tion now!” they chant. Cunha’s bill would re­quire rape vic­tims to sub­mit proof be­fore hav­ing an abor­tion, make it a crime to help or in­duce a woman to abort and limit the def­i­ni­tion of sex­ual violence to cases in which phys­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal harm can be proven. Crit­ics say the bill’s vague lan­guage also threat­ens ac­cess to the “morn­ing-af­ter pill,” an emer­gency con­tra­cep­tive to pre­vent un­wanted preg­nan­cies. Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic coun­try by pop­u­la­tion, places tight re­stric­tions on abor­tion.

It is a crime pun­ish­able by up to three years in prison, ex­cept in three cases: a brain-dam­aged fe­tus, risk of death for the mother and rape. Rights groups es­ti­mate 850,000 women have abor­tions ev­ery year in Brazil-but just 1,500 of them are le­gal.

Pun­ish­ing rapists or vic­tims?

Marcela Ar­ruda, a 32-year-old artist who joined one march along with her mother and aunt, said Cunha’s bill was a throw­back to 75 years ago, when Brazil be­gan al­low­ing abor­tions for rape vic­tims. “It seems like we’re in 1940, not 2015. We’ve made a lot of gains, we’re not go­ing to give up now, we’re not go­ing to just shut up and take it,” she said.

Back­ers of the bill say it aims to strengthen rape in­ves­ti­ga­tions. “We want the ex­am­i­na­tion of the ev­i­dence to be manda­tory to help pun­ish the rapist. The more we carry out th­ese ex­ams, the bet­ter the chances of pun­ish­ing the rapist, of putting him in jail,” said Green Party law­maker Evan­dro Gussi. The goal, he said, is to elim­i­nate “any doubts that a rape was com­mit­ted.”

Many women dis­agree. “To prove that you were raped is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. Be­cause you get to the po­lice sta­tion and they ask you, ‘Have you been drink­ing? How were you dressed? Did you con­sent?’” said Marcela Ve­gah, a 26-year-old ac­tivist at a march Thurs­day in Rio.

The bill’s real aim is to fur­ther re­strict ac­cess to le­gal abor­tion, “which is al­ready dif­fi­cult,” said Si­nara Gu­mieri, a lawyer and re­searcher at Brazil’s In­sti­tute for Bioethics, Hu­man Rights and Gen­der.

Some crit­ics call the bill a smoke­screen to dis­tract from ac­cu­sa­tions that Cunha took mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes in a mas­sive cor­rup­tion scan­dal that has en­gulfed state oil com­pany Petro­bras. The con­tro­ver­sies come as Cunha is cen­ter stage in Brazil­ian pol­i­tics. As speaker, he has the power to de­cide whether to put to a vote a slew of pend­ing im­peach­ment pe­ti­tions against em­bat­tled left-wing Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff.

Cli­mate of fear

Even when it is le­gal, abor­tion is not easy in Brazil. Of the 68 cen­ters au­tho­rized to per­form the pro­ce­dure, just 37 ac­tu­ally do, ac­cord­ing to Gu­mieri’s or­ga­ni­za­tion. Many re­quire a po­lice re­port, foren­sic med­i­cal re­port or court per­mit. “Vic­tims are be­ing treated as sus­pects,” said Gu­mieri.

She said 36 per­cent of women who have had abor­tions in Brazil are girls or ado­les­cents who have suf­fered sex­ual violence, usu­ally in their own homes. Crit­ics say the bill also threat­ens ac­cess to the “morn­ing-af­ter pill.” “The bill is vague. It talks about non­abortive pro­ce­dures or drugs. That’s the case with the morn­ing-af­ter pill, an emer­gency con­tra­cep­tive. Con­fu­sion could arise in the in­ter­pre­ta­tion,” said law­maker Erika Kokay of the rul­ing Work­ers’ Party, who voted against the bill in com­mit­tee. The leg­is­la­tion is the lat­est salvo from a pow­er­ful con­ser­va­tive cau­cus in Brazil’s Congress that is also seek­ing to re­lax gun con­trol laws, limit the def­i­ni­tion of the fam­ily to het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples and re­strict in­dige­nous Brazil­ians’ rights to their an­ces­tral lands. — AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil­ian women demon­strate in fa­vor of abort le­gal­iza­tion and against the pres­i­dent of the Brazil­ian Cham­ber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, in Rio de Janeiro down­town on Novem­ber 11, 2015. — AFP

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