The debate about decriminalizing abortion is becoming more and more common in Latin America, more so since the latest demonstrations in Argentina. In Brazil, the subject is still faced with obstacles to move forward in the Congress. Over the last 78 years, the law has allowed pregnancy termination only in three cases: risk of maternal death, anencephaly (absense of a major portion of the brain of the fetus), and rape.
While legal abortion is a women’s right in these cases, it is little publicized and is faced with prejudice, lack of information, and even abuse by health professionals. In order to raise more awareness of this right for women, three Brazilian organizations launched the “Legal and Safe” campaign.
Adriana Mota is a sociologist and coordinator of the Brazilian Women’s Articulation (AMB) in Rio de Janeiro. She says there are few places specializing in legal abortion services in Brazil. According to Mota, Rio’s severe situation today makes it even more necessary to guarantee that women can have access to public health services.
“In the state of Rio de Janeiro, we only have two health units [specializing in legal abortion services] in all 92 cities that performed more than five legal abortions last year. That means that, in Rio, a city where 13 rapes are reported every day on average, a lot of women are going through the horrors of becoming pregnant from rape and not being able to access the [public] health system,” she argues.
The “Legal and Safe” campaign shows that, in 2014, nearly 5 percent of maternal deaths in Brazil were caused by abortion. Black women are the primary victims. According to the campaign, this is because they are forced to look for help in extreme situations, either for fear of being abused or for not knowing where to go, for not being allowed to miss work, or for not having access to quality information.
Lucia Xavier is the coordinator of NGO Criola. She says that institutional racism – that is, racism in the practice of public and private institutions – is what aggravates the abortion-related maternal mortality scenario for black women.
“Racism operates in these processes to such an extent that women don’t have the means to make all the decisions about themselves. They are forced to [use] more conservative [birth control] methods, they are not offered options where they can have control. They are told the number of children they have is a problem, and that’s why they need this birth control. At the same time, when they show up pregnant at a health unit or even when they are having a miscarriage or abortion, they are rejected, mistreated, and judged. All that is part of this racist experience that is limiting black women’s representation,” Xavier points out.
The “Legal and Safe” campaign is aiming to further promote the debate about abortion and make sure this women’s right is enforced when legally allowed. Audio and video content is posted on the Cfemea Facebook page, Twitter and also on SoundCloud.
Edition: Mariana Pitasse