Polands Health Minister threatend its citizen with a registration once but now it is becoming reality in Brazil: A compulsory registration of all pregnant women will make it easy to track down women who illegally abort.

by Beatriz Galli

January 6, 2012 – 10:46pm (Print)Donate!

In the dead of night on December 27, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff enacted legislation that will require all pregnancies to be registered with the government. Provisionary Measure 557 (PM 557) created the National System of Registration, Vigilance and Monitoring Women’s Care during Pregnancy and Post Childbirth for the Prevention of Maternal Mortality (National Registration System).

She used a provisionary measure—intended only for urgent matters—that allows the president to pass a law without congressional approval. Congress only gets to debate and approve the law once it has been enacted. Rousseff claims that PM 557 will address Brazil’s high rates of maternal mortality by ensuring better access, coverage and quality of maternal health care, notably for high-risk pregnancies. Both public and private health providers must report all pregnancies—providing women’s names—with the National Registration System so the state can then track these pregnancies, from prenatal to postpartum care, presumably to evaluate and monitor health care provided.

How does simply monitoring pregnancies reduce maternal mortality? There is no guarantee that care will be available to all pregnant women and no investment in improving health services included in the legislation.

And what’s the benefit to women? PM 557 does authorize the federal government to provide financial support up to R$50.00 (roughly US$27) for registered pregnant women for their transportation to health facilities for pre-natal and delivery care. However, to receive the stipend women must comply with specific conditions set by the state related to pre-natal care. Let’s face it, that paltry sum may not even cover the roundtrip for one appointment depending on where a woman lives.

In fact, PM 557 does not guarantee access to health exams, timely diagnosis, providers trained in obstetric emergency care, or immediate transfers to better facilities. So while the legislation guarantees R$50.00 for transportation, it will not even ensure a pregnant woman will find a vacant bed when she is ready to give birth. And worse yet, it won’t minimize her risk of death during the process.

The biggest problem with maternal mortality in Brazil is not access to health-care services but rather the quality of health care in public health facilities. The majority of preventable maternal deaths actually take place in public hospitals, disproportionately affecting poor women, women who live in rural areas, youth and minorities.
Last but certainly not least, MP 557 violates all women’s right to privacy by creating compulsory registration to control and monitor her reproductive life. In fact, it places the rights of the fetus over the woman, effectively denying her reproductive autonomy. A woman will now be legally “obligated” to have all the children she conceives and she will be monitored by the State for this purpose.

It’s unclear why Rousseff sought to enact this legislation so quickly and with so little opportunity for debate or public opinion. What is clear though is that women’s real interests and health needs are not the focus here—just their uteruses.

Dirty Campaigning, Brazilian Style

By Gillian Kane

November 1, 2010 – 3:12pm

“Murderer,” “anti-Christ,” “candidate of death.”  No, this isn’t Sharron Angle talking about Harry Reid in advance of tomorrow’s election.  This was the combative rhetoric framing the lead up to Sunday’s run-off election in Brazil.  The 2010 presidential elections marked the first time abortion became a highly debated campaign issue and it followed a fairly American script, replete with allegations against front runner, Dilma Rousseff, that she was a lesbian, a child-killer, a socialist.  The tactic didn’t pay off: Rousseff won a resounding victory last night with 56 percent of the vote to become Brazil’s first female president. 

It is remarkable that the Catholic Church and its right wing allies succeeded to the extent they did in making abortion a wedge issue because both presidential candidates, Rousseff and her opponent, José Serra, the former governor of Sao Paulo state, are hardly pro-choice—at at least in the way we Americans define pro-choice. Neither advocates for legalizing abortion, neither campaigned on a pro-choice platform, and neither has aligned with the activist Brazilian pro-choice movement.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil, though permissible for two exceptions; rape and risk to life of the pregnant woman.  The Brazilian feminist movement, active now for almost 30 years, has made significant progress in the face of unrelenting opposition to legal abortion reform.  Gains, however, are measured not in legislative change—there are few political champions within the National Congress—but rather in creating broad awareness about unsafe abortion as a public health issue, ensuring that legal abortions are available, developing a grassroots movement  to support legalizing abortion and preventing any regression on existing legislation.

The extraordinary visibility of abortion in this campaign season attests, in part, to the work of the anti-choice opposition.  But it also indicates the success of the women’s movement in making the right to control one’s reproductive decisions a political consideration.  Getting to this point has taken decades.  Unfortunately, the discussion about abortion as a public health concern and a woman’s right has been corrupted by an increasingly aggressive anti-choice movement that is using abortion to smear a candidate’s morality, integrity, and in Rousseff’s case, her femininity.

Rousseff is President Lula da Silva’s handpicked successor to represent the Workers Party. As such she will likely continue his progressive social and economic policies, many of which are objectionable to the Church and conservatives.  Like her mentor, she’s not what you’d call a radical on the issue of abortion.  But she has gone further than Lula, saying abortion is a public health concern that should be examined and decriminalized. These small statements are considered significant progress within the women’s movement.

Apparently the anti-choice movement seems to feel the same.  They publicized Rousseff’s mild remarks as examples of her extremist views. Their aggressive anti-abortion, anti-Rousseff campaign, mostly launched on the internet and through local parishes, forced her to retract these statements. In a desperate bid to court Catholics and evangelicals—a constituency both candidates were frantically vying for—she went so far as to sign a pledge stating that she is personally against abortion and promising not to change existing abortion laws if elected.

Serra is equally tepid on the issue of abortion though to his credit in 1988, when he was Minister of Health, it passed guidelines introducing the contraceptive pill to Brazil and legalizing abortion for the only two existing exceptions. Like Rousseff he has disavowed his past but because he has the full support of the Catholic Church, he has done a much better job of presenting himself as the “pro-life” candidate.

While abortion is absolutely a controversial issue, this particular controversy—that Rousseff is a rabid abortion supporter—is a red herring.  The myth of her wholesale support for abortion up to the ninth month has been entirely fabricated by the hierarchy of the Brazilian Catholic Church, with overt support from the Vatican.

Just last week Pope Benedict XVI issued a public statement urging Brazil’s bishops to highlight the Church’s opposition to abortion and to encourage their congregations to vote for the candidate that respects life.  As a secular country founded on the principle of separation of church and state, the role of the Catholic Church in this election cycle, and the abuse of its role in particular, merits another article entirely.

Given the similarity between the two candidates why abortion and why now? The answer is clear: The social stigma around abortion is such that the Catholic Church and its allies can gain political traction by merely leveling the accusation that a person is pro-choice. This negative branding has a long-lasting effect, even if the categorization is all wrong, as in the case of Rousseff.  Abortion is an easy way to destabilize candidates and distract voters from other pressing national matters. In a contested election with the potential to change parties, and where a woman as president is a strong likelihood, the Church is willing to use all the weapons in its arsenal to ensure a victory.

What calls the whole “debate” on abortion into question is that there really is no debate. Legalizing abortion in Brazil anytime soon is not a real possibility, not under Lula or Rousseff.

So what lessons can we draw from this campaign?  The Church and its allies did shift the terms of the electoral debate and candidates were forced to placate religious voters by refashioning their position on abortion.  However, after last night’s historic win we have clear evidence that this strategy is weakening. Abortion can unbalance a candidate but it turns out voters in Brazil are not one-issue voters like Americans.  Let’s hope that US voters tomorrow will do as Brazilians did last night and ignore the vitriol of the campaign season and elect candidates who represent their best interests—and not those of the Catholic and evangelical churches.

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Abortion is a serious public health issue, and the last two Brazilian Presidents ensured significant progress in this field, with the approval of two technical norms by the Ministry of Health. The Technical Norm on Prevention and Treatment of Diseases Resulting from Sexual Violence against Women and Adolescents, 1998, provides immediate assistance to women victims of violence who wish to terminate not only an unwanted pregnancy, but imposed by the shame of a rape. The Penal Code of 1940 allows it. The Technical Norms of Humanized Attention for Abortion in 2004 advises on the care and humane treatment that every woman in the abortion process, spontaneous or unsure, are entitled to be served in the public Health. The Brazilian process of democratization has proved plural mature enough not to succumb to electioneering and conservative pressures that aim to merely hide and ignore the suffering of millions of women for whom abortion is a last resort. Therefore, abortion should not be paid to the cost of suffering, loneliness, illness or even death. Thus, the consolidating and deepening democracy in Brazil requires the permanent preservation of the constitutional principle of secularism of state and religious freedom as important rights for people to profess their faith and act according to their consciences. It is widely recognized that the most affected in this context are poor women, who resort to the Brazilian Unified Health System (SUS) with complications from an abortion performed under precarious conditions, with high risk of compromising their future well-being. In the same way that an abortion under dignified and safe conditions should not be the watershed among Brazilian women because of their social class, the use of this matter in electoral processes to result in an archaic, hypocritical and conservative Brazil, over Republican interests and the promotion of gender equality, is unacceptable. It is the duty of the State to ensure widespread access and unrestricted contraceptive methods to control fertility for men and women within the Unified Health System (SUS). The Brazilian Constitution and the Health Law 9.253/1996 establish that family planning is a right of all people and that the state provides the necessary information and means for the voluntary control of fertility. This is no time for retreats. We can not walk in opposite of most democratic countries, which have considered this as a serious public health problem and ensured laws that preserve the dignity of women who faced such circumstances. Being against the criminalization of abortion is the same as recognizing the right to justice and prevent the suffering of millions of women in this country. Rio de Janeiro, October 12, 2010 Click here to view the list of foreign signatures https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=0AvCZpsuCDTjedGtEZzRpaWhZRzhKdU9lOHhPTFhqZVE&hl=en&output=pdf Click here to view the list of signatures from Brazil https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=0AvCZpsuCDTjedFBZTWZmeUlQTUhvaUZJeVM3bzROdHc&hl=en&output=pdf
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Abortion, a Bargaining Chip in Campaign for Runoff
By Fabiana Frayssinet

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 15, 2010 (IPS) – The issue of abortion has turned into a weapon that threatens to take away votes from the candidates in the campaign for the second round of presidential elections in Brazil, with conservative religious groups using it as a bargaining chip in exchange for their support.

But this situation does not reflect the position of the majority of voters, who are in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion, say analysts and representatives of the women’s movement, which criticise the use of women’s bodies as a means of electoral pressure.

The question of whether abortion, which is currently punishable by up to 10 years in prison in Brazil, should be legalised has become a flashpoint issue in the campaign for the Oct. 31 runoff vote between Dilma Rousseff of the governing Workers Party (PT) and her rival José Serra of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB).

Earlier indications that Rousseff favoured the legalisation of abortion were seen as the main reason she failed to win outright in the first round of voting, on Oct. 3.

As in most of Latin America, abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger.

A decisive number of voters defected from the Rousseff camp to Green Party candidate Marina Silva, an evangelical Christian.

Silva, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s (no relation) former environment minister, is opposed to abortion and proposed holding a referendum on whether or not it should be legalised.

The Green candidate’s strong performance was the big surprise on Oct. 3, when she took nearly 20 percent of the vote, behind Rousseff, who won 47 percent, and Serra, who garnered close to 33 percent.

According to a Vox Populi poll published Wednesday by the IG Internet portal, Rousseff now has 48 percent support, compared to Serra’s 40 percent.

In this month’s campaign, Rousseff and Serra are presenting themselves as champions of the moral crusade against the decriminalisation of abortion, even though in the past both of them have expressed openness to women’s right to choose.

Beatriz Galli with Ipas Brazil — the national branch of Ipas, an international network that works for the sexual and reproductive rights of women worldwide — told IPS she regrets that the debate has been reduced “to being against or in favour of abortion or in favour of life.”

The PT candidate had earlier stated that progress should be made towards the decriminalisation of abortion. But now her web site emphasises that she is “personally against abortion.”

Alongside a photo of the recent baptism of her first grandson, she states that “it would be odd for me to be in favour of abortion after this manifestation of life in the bosom of my family.”

Rousseff says abortion is “violence against women,” although she adds that if she is elected, her government “will not deal with it as an issue for the police, but as a public health and social issue.”

Serra has followed a similar line. While in 1998, as health minister under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), he helped secure the approval of public health guidelines for the legal practice of abortion in cases of rape, he now warns that the legalisation of abortion would lead to “carnage.”

He has also used campaign slogans describing himself as “a man who was never caught up in scandals and who has always been consistent, condemning abortion and defending life” or as “a family man,” in an attempt to strike a contrast with Rousseff, who is divorced and who took part as a young woman in the armed struggle against the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

But Galli said “This is a false dilemma, because the central issue is whether the state should criminalise something that is a public health question, placing women’s health and lives at risk because it forces them to seek clandestine abortions.”

According to conservative estimates from Brazil’s national health system, the Sistema Único de Saúde, at least 1.5 million illegal abortions a year are performed in this country of 192 million people, and 250,000 women are hospitalised for abortion-related complications, which are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.

Galli argued that an issue involving the human rights of women cannot be reduced to a religious question.

A study by University of Brasilia professor Débora Diniz, an anthropologist and a researcher at the Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender, found that one out of five women interviewed had had an abortion before the age of 40.

And of the respondents who had undergone an abortion, 88 percent said they were religious — a revealing figure in the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world, and where evangelical churches are growing at breakneck speed.

“These women’s stories cannot be ignored because of the frenzied race for the votes of religious communities that consider abortion an abominable crime,” Diniz wrote in an article.

“Abortion has become a bargaining chip to win votes,” she added, maintaining that the political concessions made by the two candidates are “threats to democracy” because they compromise the principle of the separation of church and state.

Guacira César de Oliveira, director and founder of the Feminist Centre for Studies and Advisory Services (CFEMEA), told IPS that a biased analysis has been made, which “requires the two candidates to take a certain stance against abortion, as if that were the only way to win the elections.”

Oliveira blames this situation on “an offensive by the conservative right and religious fundamentalists” which has managed to put abortion at the centre of the campaign, ahead of other issues that also contributed to Rousseff’s failure to win the 50 percent of the vote she needed to avoid a runoff.

Analysts point, for example, to corruption allegations against the Lula administration, which Rousseff formed part of from early 2003 to last March, first as energy minister and then as chief of staff — especially an influence-peddling scandal that forced Erenice Guerra, who succeeded Rousseff as chief of staff and was one of her closest aides, to resign.

Oliveira said the “demonisation” of abortion in the campaign did not reflect the opinion of the majority of voters. She pointed out that many women resort to unsafe abortion “in order to be able to determine how many children they want and are able to have.

“Women’s wombs must not be a bargaining chip in these elections,” she complained.

Carmen Silva, an educator at the SOS Corpo Feminist Institute for Democracy, agrees that what is happening is a manipulation by “religious fundamentalism,” which has grown worldwide, and which in Brazil has been associated with “the big media, rightwing politicians and members of the military nostalgic for the military dictatorship.”

Oliveira and Silva both stressed that abortion has crowded out other women’s issues, such as political participation, assistance for victims of violence, and equal employment opportunities.

“With so many issues that are crucial to democracy and fundamental rights, like education, public security or social security, it’s strange that there is an effort to make sure that the new president of Brazil will be determined by his or her position on abortion,” Diniz stated.

It should not be too surprising that in Brazil, the country with the largest number of Roman Catholics (73% of the populace, or about 140 million), abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger or when the fetus has severe genetic abnormalities. Indeed, the ban on abortion is an immovable plank in the campaign platforms of the two main candidates in Brazil’s upcoming presidential election. Yet a recent study revealed that 1 in 5 Brazilian women of child-bearing age has terminated a pregnancy, and statistics by the Health Ministry show that 200,000 women each year are hospitalized because of complications arising from unsafe abortions.

The study has shocked doctors, who were surprised at just how common the illegal procedures are. “I think the big conclusion we draw from this is that the woman who has an abortion is a typical Brazilian woman,” says Marcelo Medeiros, the economist and sociologist who coordinated the government-funded study. “She could be your cousin, your mother, your sister or your neighbor. All the evidence shows this is a serious problem and one that is not being debated openly.”

Outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who says he is personally against abortion, is on the record calling for the state to discuss it as a public-health, rather than as a moral, issue. The popular President, however, has done little to foster any wider debate on legalizing the procedure, and his government has not made reducing maternal mortality — which is tied to the unsafe abortions — one of its health goals. The two leading candidates to replace him in October’s presidential election have adopted a similar stance and both say they have no plans to change the current law. Only Marina Silva of Green Party, the outsider in the race, has said she supports a liberalization of current rules surrounding abortion. But even Silva has not said that she is advocating outright legalization.

In fact, Brazil’s Congress is discussing tightening legislation rather than relaxing it. A bill in the committee stage proposes criminalizing any act designed to deliberately damage a fetus and prohibiting any statements that promote even legal abortion, a move the New York City–based Center for Reproductive Rights said “totally disregards women’s health and lives.” Health professionals say they hope the bill will die with the end of the current legislature and are hopeful next year’s new Congress will be more forward-looking.

The new Fetal Rights Bill

The proposed measure imposes a duty on the family, society and the state to guarantee, with “absolute priority,” rights to life, health, development, honor, dignity, respect, liberty, and family to the “unborn.” The draft bill is intended to criminalize any act that intentionally causes death or harms the fetus, and any statement that “promotes” abortion, as well as the freezing, manipulation or use of the “unborn” as material for experimentation. (more…)


The decriminalisation of abortion has been dropped from a Brazilian government human rights action plan, a move that observers attribute to the need of the ruling Workers Party to negotiate support from right-wing parties to ensure the passage of bills in Congress.

Meanwhile, as national elections draw near, the issue of abortion is being avoided even by candidates who have traditionally been open to the prospect of decriminalisation.

The Brazilian women’s movement’s applause for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive rights in the draft version of the government’s 3rd National Programme on Human Rights (PNDH 3) has been cut short by the decision to eliminate this controversial issue from the text.

The government’s decision to modify the draft programme came after a campaign headed up by the Catholic Church, which went so far as to refer to leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as ”Herod” — an allusion to the king of Judea who ordered the killing of baby boys in and around Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus Christ, according to the Bible.