The PL of rapists

Image: Alain Frechette
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By FLAVIA BIROLI*

Perversities and setbacks in the abortion agenda

1.

Since 1940, Brazilian women can legally have an abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or if there is a risk of death due to gestational problems. These are two extreme situations, which have been tacitly accepted for a long time, although access to legal abortion has always been difficult in the country. In 2012, we started to have a third exception to criminalization, fetal anencephaly, also an extreme case in which there is no possibility of life outside the womb.

Also in the 2000s, in the first cycle of PT governments, the Technical Standard for Humanized Abortion Care, from the Ministry of Health (2005 and 2014), pointed to state guidance aligned with existing legislation, seeking to guarantee care for women who decided to have an abortion in cases permitted by law.

It is this timid and insufficient regulation that has been attacked by those who believe that women should be forced by the State to maintain a pregnancy against their will. The most recent instrument is PL 1904/2024, proposed and supported, in particular, by parliamentarians from the Brazilian extreme right. A few years ago, in 2015, women took to the streets across the country against another project, PL 5069/2013, proposed by then deputy Eduardo Cunha together with other evangelical and Catholic parliamentarians. They also aimed to hinder and restrict access for women who had suffered rape to legal abortion.

PL 1904/2024 provides for a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for women who abort after 22 weeks of pregnancy. The cases in which these 22 weeks are reached are, commonly, children who have been raped and do not have the experience to recognize what is happening in their bodies. Or they are afraid to tell anyone, since, according to data from the Brazilian Public Security Forum, most abuses happen at home and are committed by family members or acquaintances. We are talking about a radical reduction in the right to abortion, since one third of legal abortions occur at this stage of pregnancy.

Another case in which the PL could have a brutal impact, depending on the final text that is voted on, is that of women who are at risk of dying if they continue with their pregnancy. Those who are diagnosed at risk later are precisely those for whom access to the health system is precarious or slow. Poor, black women who live in rural areas or urban areas with difficult access to care. Many of them are mothers who are terrified of the possibility of leaving orphans the children they already have, the people they love. Parliamentarians who defend PL 1904/2024 are determining that, from 22 weeks of gestation, these women would have to choose between dying or being arrested.

The demonstrations and debates raised in 2015 and, at this moment, against PL 1904/2024, nicknamed the “PL of rapists”, show that there is a willingness among women of different ages to fight against arbitrary decisions that compromise their health, physical integrity and mental, their condition as full citizens. They also represented a process of collective construction and learning. The 2015 protests were important for political demonstrations that came later, such as “#ForaCunha!” and “#EleNão!” In all cases, there is a complaint that there is a relationship between attacks on women, the expansion of violent positions on the right and the erosion of democracy.

2.

The expansion of the right to abortion in the region, as well as the attacks on these rights, are a window into understanding the disputes surrounding the meanings and scope of democracy. The demands of feminist movements have historically pushed for the democratization of the state and society. And they have been one of the targets of movements that work to restrict democracies and normalize authoritarian and openly exclusionary ways of managing political and social conflicts.

Strategies to restrict legal abortion and criminalize women have been accentuated with the decriminalization of abortion in some countries in recent years – in Uruguay (2012), Argentina (2021), Mexico (2021) and Colombia (2022), in addition to the definition of new exceptions to criminalization, since 2007, in Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Panama, according to data from the ECLAC Gender Equality Observatory and the Human Rights Watch.

In the same period, some countries in which laws are highly restrictive remained stagnant (Honduras, Paraguay and Peru) or expanded criminalization, through changes in laws (Nicaragua and Dominican Republic) or stricter criminal prosecution of women who abort (El Salvador) . In some of them, the process of erosion of democracies and construction of an authoritarian penal state has been accentuated.

3.

The Brazilian extreme right does not hide its hostility to feminism and other movements fighting for human rights and places it at the center of its attacks against democracy. During Jair Bolsonaro's government (2019-22), anti-abortion activists held positions in key ministries for gender policies, such as the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights and the Ministry of Health. From this position, they worked to restrict the access of girls and women to legal abortion.

Minister Damares Alves was personally involved in the attempt to prevent a 10-year-old child, raped by her uncle in Espírito Santo, from having access to abortion under the terms defined by the Penal Code since 1940. In 2022, the secretary of primary health care, today one of the actors who have guided the Federal Council of Medicine's policy against women's rights, created a booklet for pregnant women that ignored Brazilian legislation, stating that “all abortion is a crime” and that cases of abortion provided for by law should be monitored by police investigation.

Complaints from the feminist and human rights movements led to a review of the booklet, but the orientation to limit access and make women and health agents objects of distrust and potential penalization continues to be activated by the extreme right in Congress, in medical councils and in some instances of the Judiciary.

Thus, the effort to limit access to legal abortion and criminalize women who wish to terminate a pregnancy, focusing on cases provided for by law, sets the tone for current disputes: it keeps the feminist and human rights movements in a position in which the struggle It's about guaranteeing what little we already have, rather than expanding a fundamental right to citizenship for girls and women.

The perverse policy of parliamentarians and doctors who want to prevent girls and women from having abortions goes against humanitarian values. Many of these radicalized parliamentarians, doctors and jurists hide their inhumanity under the idea of ​​belief. But they deny the senses of solidarity and empathy shared by different religions and secular philosophies. Their political calculation and fanaticism prevent them from recognizing the suffering of women and girls, but, most importantly, prevent them from being guided by the protection of human dignity.

Is it reasonable to impose motherhood on children whom society has not been able to protect? In what kind of society is it legitimate to treat a raped woman with harsher penalties than the rapist? In what context of exercising power can the idea that a woman should die or go to jail if the pregnancy is at risk be normalized, even though there is a law that provides that she would have access to abortion in this case?

I do not believe in dialogue with those who lead the way to barbarism. But there are many others, including religious people, in our daily lives and in the National Congress to whom it may be important to ask: do you agree with a rule that forces raped children to become mothers?

* Flavia Biroli is a professor at the Institute of Political Science at UnB. She is the author, among other books, of Gender and inequalities: limits of democracy in Brazil (Boitempo).

Originally published on Boitempo's blog.


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