Published18 hours ago
Brazil’s Supreme Court has started voting on whether to decriminalise abortion. However, the session was quickly postponed after a minister called for the vote to take place in person instead of via video – and no new date has yet been set.
Currently, abortion is only allowed in three cases: that of rape, risk to the woman’s life and anencephaly – when the foetus has an undeveloped brain.
If the Supreme Court votes in favour, abortion will be decriminalised up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Paloma only found out she was pregnant when she went to have a contraceptive implant fitted – the 26-year-old took a test and was told she was expecting. Already a mother-of-three, the pregnancy may not have been planned, but she embraced the idea of adding to her family.
She even paid for a private scan at 15 weeks, so she could find out the baby’s sex and start buying clothes.
But in that medical appointment everything changed. The foetus was found to have body stalk anomaly – a rare condition in which organs lie outside the abdominal wall meaning the baby would die shortly after birth.
She was told to go back to her doctor to discuss it. At her next appointment, she asked what was wrong with the baby. The doctor said he couldn’t tell her.
Would the baby survive, she then asked him? His response was cold: “You’ll have to wait until it’s born.”
The consultation was over and she was sent home, questions still buzzing in her head. She went to another private clinic to confirm the diagnosis.
Brazil’s abortion law dates back to 1940. A body stalk anomaly is not one of the cases in which abortion is allowed, but Paloma was told by the private doctor that as long as she had two medical professionals recommending a termination, then a judge could grant one.
The doctor wrote a report there and then, she just needed her regular obstetrician to support it.
Convinced she wanted a termination, Paloma went back to him. He insisted she listen to the baby’s heartbeat. The nurse in the room said “that’s the heart beating, you’ll end up regretting having a termination”.
She started crying and told him she didn’t want opinions, this was her choice. But it wasn’t. He refused to recommend an abortion.
It took several more weeks before she could find the right people to support her – they involved lawyers, psychologists, medical specialists and even the permission of her husband to allow her to end the pregnancy.
“I think I speak for everyone when I say it was a nightmare – because we aren’t in charge of our own bodies,” she says.
“It could have been so simple but they prolonged my suffering.”
But this week, much could change.
On Friday, Brazil’s Supreme Court will begin voting on whether to decriminalise abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
It comes after Mexico’s Supreme Court recently decriminalised abortion across the country. Argentina as well as the likes of Colombia, Chile, Peru and Bolivia have also changed the law in recent years. This in a region that has traditionally been very conservative.
“Here we are with a law that was created 82 years ago,” says Cristião Fernando Rosas, of Global Doctors for Choice Brasil.
“We can no longer talk about the fact that this is a regional context – that’s tantamount to saying ‘we are against the rights of women’.”
Not everyone agrees though. Nathalia Prado de Andrade and Milena Barroso Moura Tavares Correia de Oliveira are active campaigners against abortion.
Natalia got pregnant at 21 and nearly had an abortion until her religious mother convinced her otherwise. Milena is 23 and gave birth four months ago. She’s pregnant again and says she wants as many children as God allows her.
Both women are Catholic, they believe that life begins at conception and they met online, actively campaigning against liberalising abortion. They say that this move by the Supreme Court is purely political.
“We all know that [President] Lula has a leftist agenda – an abortionist agenda,” says Nathalia.
“Feminists defend freedom to abort which comes from their sexual liberation. The issues of abortion and feminism work together and they’re linked to the left.”
It’s not a political decision, it’s about choices, and we all have a right to choose
But Dr Roberta Kronemberger Santos, who works at the Women’s Hospital in Santo André, is not convinced.
“We have to understand that it’s not a political decision, it’s about choices and we all have a right to choose,” she says.
Dr Kronemberger Santos has had cases of women who have tried to carry out abortions at home – by the time they come into hospital, they’re bleeding and have infections.
“The more we talk about it, the more people will understand,” she says. “We’ve never talked so much about women’s rights as we are now, talking about this prejudice. All those discussions have come together.”
Dr Cristião Fernando Rosas goes even further.
“Unfortunately in Brazil, it’s not just a question of abortion or of family planning, or the morning-after pill. It’s the imposition of religious fundamentalists who have hugely damaged public health and put lives at risk,” he says.
“The solution is simple – those who don’t want to accept abortion just don’t use that right granted by the constitution.”