anti-gender offensives



The right to abortion at the heart of the democratic dispute

Since 1990, during the 5th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Meeting, held in Argentina, September 28 was established as the Day of Struggle for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the World Health Organization (2017), 25 million induced abortions occur annually. In Latin America, 75% of abortions performed would be unsafe.

Despite this, in Brazil, induced abortion is a crime against life provided for in the Brazilian Penal Code of 1940, in articles 124 to 127, except in cases of risk to the woman's life and pregnancy resulting from rape, and must be practiced by doctors , according to article 128. Since 2012, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) has decriminalized induced abortion in the case of an anencephalic fetus.

One month away from the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Day of Struggle for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Brazilian Ministry of Health published Ordinance No. Pregnancy in the cases provided for by law, within the scope of the Unified Health System-SUS”. The said Ordinance establishes, in its Art. 2.282st, the obligation for the doctor and other health professionals to notify the police authority; in its Art. 1th, clarifying the woman about the possible discomforts and risks to her health; in its Art. 6th, the availability by the medical team of the woman to visualize the fetus or embryo through ultrasound.

This Ordinance represents a setback in relation to the guarantee of legal abortion in case of rape, as yet another attempt to embarrass medical teams, discourage women victims of violence from making decisions safely, disrespect the legal principles set forth in the Brazilian Code and violate women's right to autonomy.

Last week, the legal abortion of a 10-year-old child, raped by her uncle since she was 6, was on the agenda of the national debate, resulting in a high-risk pregnancy. Although abortion in cases of rape has been legal in the country since 1940 and has not required a police report since 2005, the procedure had to be authorized by the Brazilian courts and, even so, care was denied by the hospital in the capital of the state where the child lives. To carry out the procedure safely, the girl and her grandmother had to travel to Recife, where religious and conservative fundamentalist groups were mobilized, after a far-right militant disclosed the name and address of the child, in addition to the hospital where the procedure would be performed. and the doctor's name.

It should be noted that, before that, the team of the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights visited the child's home to convince her not to have an abortion.

These two recent facts exemplify the explicit anti-gender offensive underway in Brazil, with the withdrawal of rights and the increase in violence in relation to aspects of gender and sexuality, in which the main articulating guidelines are the issue of abortion and gender ideology, result of a neoconservative transnational agenda (CORRÊA and PARKER, 2019), made possible by the de-democratizing effects of neoliberalism, as discussed by Wendy Brown (2006 and 2019)

The discussion about abortion is a fundamental issue for democracy and citizenship because it is a necessary condition for full access to the political sphere and to individual and collective autonomy and, therefore, it is also a political issue. The main challenge of the struggle for the right to abortion is to assert this right as fundamental to autonomy and equality, with freedom in sexual and reproductive choices (BARSTED, 1992; SILVEIRA, et al, 2018). For Lamas (2013), the right to abortion goes through fundamental points: the decision about one's own body; about the life plan itself; health care; preservation of physical and mental integrity; and equal opportunities; and the criminalization of violent practice, therefore, the rights of autonomy, freedom, dignity and equality.

Abortion is seen, by feminist movements, as an issue that also concerns the public and private spheres, since the degree of freedom in the private sphere reflects the degree of politicization of the issue in the public sphere. It is necessary to return to the discussion of the sexual division of labor, presented by Pateman (1988), who argues that the social contract discussed by classical contractualist theorists is, in fact, a social and sexual contract. For the author, the social contract is a story of freedom that hides the sexual dimension, which is domination. In the original contract, civil liberty is not universal, it is exclusive to men, because it creates the political right of men over women, and originates the public sphere, civil legislation, liberty, civil equality, the political and the economic, and the private sphere, of subjection and domination. The universal individual treated by contractualists in an abstract way, when embodied, is the male body. Women, their bodies and reproduction are the embodiment of private space, domestic life and motherhood.

Although abortion is a frequent practice in the private sphere, it is strongly condemned in the public opinion, which would reflect the logic of domination in relation to the issue of abortion in the public sphere (BOLTANSKI, 2012). The question posed, therefore, is not whether to perform an abortion, but who decides and under what circumstances to perform it, also highlighting the aspects of class and race, largely guided by feminist movements in peripheral countries, since the main victims of sequelae of unsafe abortion are poor and black women (BIROLI, 2014; BARSTED, 1992).

The criminalization and precariousness of clandestine abortion is a historic challenge for human rights, especially in poor countries. Illegality inhibits the demand for health services, with an increase in deaths and complications. The criminalization of abortion exposes the relationship between gender, race and class, since, in general, women from the middle and upper classes, and generally white, have access to safer options for having an abortion, although they also suffer from clandestinity and precariousness, while women from lower classes, and generally black, are the ones who have the most serious consequences or die from having an unsafe abortion.

Despite the social, political and academic relevance of the discussion on the legalization of abortion, conceptual advances and international rights on the subject have little impact on the political and legal debate in Brazil. In the current situation, it becomes even clearer how women's rights are placed at the center of the democratic dispute, with the advance of anti-gender offensives at the social, political and institutional level, for the consolidation of a neoliberal, conservative, patriarchal project, racist and profoundly undemocratic. However, there is a historical lack of commitment by progressive sectors with the defense of the legalization of abortion in a critical and emancipatory way, which is even more necessary now, as a crucial aspect for the democratic reconstruction and consolidation of rights.

*Maria Clara de Mendonça Maia is a Master's student in Political Science at UFMG and a member of the World March of Women


BARSTED, L. de AL Legalization and decriminalization: 10 years of feminist struggle. Feminist Studies, Rio de Janeiro: Ciec/ECO/UFRJ, v. 0, no. 0, p. 104-130, 1992.

BIROLI, F. Autonomy and justice in the abortion debate: theoretical and political implications. Brazilian Journal of Political Science, Brasilia, n. 15, p. 37-68, Sep./Dec. 2014.

BOLTANSKI, L. The anthropological dimensions of abortion. Brazilian Journal of Political Science, Brasilia, n. 7, p. 205-245, Jan.-Apr. 2012.

Brazil. Ministry of Health. Ordinance No. 2.282/2020. Available in:

BROWN, Wendy. “The American Nightmare, Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism and De-democratization”, Political Theory, Vol. 34, No. 6, pp. 690-714. 2006.

BROWN, Wendy. In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Undemocratic Politics in the West. São Paulo: Editora Filosófica Politeia, 256 p. 2019.

CORREA, S. PARKER, R. Preface. In: Corrêa, Sonia & Kalil, Isabela. Anti-gender Policies in Latin America: Brazil –¿La Catastrofe Perfecta?, G&PAL, ABIA -Asociación Brasileira Interdisciplinar de SIDA SPW -Observatorio de Sexualidad y Política. 2019

LAMAS, M. The battle for abortion. IN: LAMAS, Marta (org.). Body, sex and politics, Editorial Océano de México: México DF, 2014. pp. 93-116.

PATEMAN, C. The sexual contract. Stanford: Stanford University. 1989.

SILVEIRA, LS FARIA, N. MORENO, R. VITÓRIA, C. COELHO, S. Right to abortion, autonomy and equality. Semperviva Feminist Organization, São Paulo, 62 p. 2018.


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