www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/04/18/in-malawi-banda’s-succession-to-presidency-could-save-millions-women’s-lives

by Jessica Mack

April 24, 2012 – 9:55am

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack suddenly this month, enabling Vice President Joyce Banda to succeed the helm. This will almost certainly change – and perhaps save – the lives of millions of Malawian women.

Banda, the country’s first female Vice President and leader of the opposition party, had been embroiled in a political struggle for months as Bingu had tried to remove her. Bingu’s move to edge her out was part of his tightening grip overall, foreshadowing what could have been another stubborn and potentially bloody transfer of power after 2014 elections, and almost certainly not to Banda.

With all due respect to the late Bingu, his death opened a rare window for reform Malawi, and golden opportunity – especially for Malawi’s women. Joyce Banda is a widely-respected and heralded champion for women’s rights and health, and has never been shy to speak her mind about it.

Banda is Southern Africa’s first female head of state, and the continent’s second (after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf). Isobel Coleman at the Center for Foreign Relations recently called her “a remarkable person who despite the odds, just might be able to put Malawi on a positive path,” as compared to her “disaster” of a predecessor. Banda left an abusive marriage as a young mother of three, and went on to found several small businesses and organizations for women before being elected to Parliament in 1999.

She is a woman of both voice and action. Almost immediately upon taking office, she issued a directive to the Ministry of Health to appoint two OB/GYN specialists to the Ethel Mutharika Maternity Hospital to support deliveries there. In a recent press conference, she said she would do anything in her capacity to ensure that the country’s maternal mortality rate is reduced. Banda herself suffered excessive bleeding after giving birth, and nearly lost her life. Though the United Nations estimates that maternal mortality in Malawi was nearly halved between 1998 and 2008, still 3,000 women a year die needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth. Just 42 percent of married women report modern contraceptive use.

Cultural taboos around women’s sexual and reproductive health, as well as the sheer inaccessibility of services define reality for many Malawian women. A lack of skilled personnel, whether doctors, midwives, or community health workers, to help women deliver safely is also a major factor in maternal deaths. Unsafe abortion is likely a major contributor as well. Abortion in Malawi is prohibited entirely, except to save a woman’s life, and even then spousal permission is required. Perhaps this is something Banda might be willing to step up and address. Systemic devaluation of women’s lives is a problem too, prompting Banda to single out village chiefs as gatekeepers for maternal health in the largely rural nation.

“They are the custodians of our culture and tradition. If you don’t include those chiefs, if you don’t integrate them, you can’t win in the area of maternal health.”

The year 2015 is the deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight major targets to improving the lives and health of the world’s poorest. A recent report by the Malawian Government says the country is on-track to meet five of the eight goals, though MDG 5 – to improve maternal health – is not one of them. African leaders are under increasing pressure from their constituents and donors to turn things around for women in their countries and there are few glimmers of hope. Banda could make huge waves on this issue in just a short while.

Banda is not only an advocate for women’s health, but economic empowerment too. In 1997, she won the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger. Landlocked Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its economy relies heavily on agriculture, and women farmers form the engine that runs it. Banda has noted that women in Malawi are conspicuously absent when it comes to economic decision-making, and that it is critical to put more of the country’s money in the hands of its mothers. If anyone can do that, it looks like she can.

Banda is also a staunch supporter of girls’ education. Last year, in a Q&A with the Global Post, she told the story of a childhood friend forced to leave high school after the $12 school fees became too high.

“I went on to go to college and I became the vice president of Malawi. She is still where she was 30 years ago. The vicious cycle of poverty kept her there and took away her options. I made up my mind … whatever would happen in my life, I would try to send girls to schools.”

Such clarity of vision forward and backward is rare in a leader, but seems to be Banda’s defining trait.

She has already distinguished herself as a committed and articulate leader on women’s health and rights. Now with the reigns, in a historic twist of events, she can finally demonstrate what that vision, realized, can do for women.

Follow Jessica Mack on Twitter, @fleetwoodjmack

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Good news to start the new year

Uruguay’s senate passed a bill Tuesday to legalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

December 28, 2011 07:17

Anti-abortion activists protest outside the Uruguayan Congress building in Montevideo on Dec. 27, 2011. (Daniel Caselli/AFP/Getty Images)

Uruguay’s senate has passed a bill to legalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Currently, abortion is legal only in cases of rape or when the woman’s life is at risk, and both women who have an abortion and those who assist them face prison.

Yet on Tuesday senators voted by 17 to 14 in favor of legislation to decriminalize abortion in the first trimester.

According to Reuters, the debate lasted 10 hours and saw heated discussion between supporters and opponents of the bill.

Senator Monica Xavier, a member of the ruling left-wing coalition, told her colleagues, “We’re not moral censors, we’re congressmen:”

“We don’t have the right to pass moral judgment by saying that the woman who continues her pregnancy and has her baby is in the right whereas the one who doesn’t, for whatever reason, is in the wrong.”

Opposition senator Alfredo Solari argued that the bill discriminated against men, by leaving “the decision to end a pregnancy with the woman alone.”

The bill will next go to the lower house. Both houses are controlled by allies of President José Mujica, who according to the BBC has signaled he plans to approve the bill.

His predecessor, Tabaré Vázquez, in 2008 vetoed an attempt to make abortion legal on the grounds that it violated the right to life. However, the latest opinion polls indicate that most Uruguayans support greater access to abortion, the BBC said.

If the bill passes, it will reverse the ban on abortion that has been in place in Uruguay since 1938, and make the country one of the few in Latin America to allow the practice without restriction.

The Canadian Press: Thursday, April 21, 2011 9:34 AM
OTTAWA – Stephen Harper says the Conservative government will never reopen the contentious debate about abortion rights in Canada as long as he’s prime minister.

Harper was responding to a growing storm of campaign controversy surrounding abortion-related comments made by a Tory candidate in Saskatchewan.

“In our party, as in any broadly based party, there are people with a range of views on this issue,” Harper said during a campaign event in Conception Bay South, N.L.

“As long as I’m prime minister, we are not reopening the abortion debate … this is not the priority of the Canadian people or of this government.”

Brad Trost told an anti-abortion group on the weekend that International Planned Parenthood Federation has been denied Canadian funding because it supports abortion.

The comments hit the Conservative tour like a lightning bolt, prompting Tory spokesman Dimitri Soudas to summon reporters in an effort to get ahead of the story.

Soudas sang the praises of the government’s G8 initiative on child and maternal health, offering it as evidence that the Conservatives are champions of women’s rights.

The Tories are willing to work with organizations that are willing to work with them, Soudas said, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which has indeed made an application for funding under the G8 initiative.

Federation spokesman Paul Bell, reached in London, said the group has had a “continuous relationship” with Canada for the last 40 years, during which they’ve received consistent funding – until recently.

A bid submitted in 2009 for a renewal worth $6 million a year over three years, the same arrangement that was in place for the previous three years, was unsuccessful, Bell said.

So the federation submitted an unsolicited bid through the G8 initiative last year, but it seems to have been stalled at the stage where it would have been reviewed by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda.

“Clearly it didn’t get approval before the end of the financial year, which was the end of March,” Bell said.

“So for 2010 we didn’t get any funding. Now the election’s been called so there’s unlikely to be an movement on that.”

Trost, meanwhile, has been making efforts in recent months to block the federation’s funding, he added.

“It’s always a concern when a member of Parliament takes that course, but that happens in a number of countries. There are people who campaign against the work that we do.”

NDP Leader Jack Layton, whose party supports “a woman’s right to choose,” calls the reports “worrying.”

He says Trost’s remarks imply the Tories harbour a hidden agenda on abortion.

Layton said the brewing controversy “certainly gives us concerns about the Conservative approach.”

That sentiment was echoed by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

“Canadian women think, ‘Wait a minute, where are these guys going with this? What do they have in mind?”‘ said Ignatieff, adding that he supports a women’s right to choose, as does his party.

“This is the way the Conservative party operates. This is why people talk about a secret agenda. Nothing is clear, nothing is transparent.”

Oda issued a statement Thursday insisting Planned Parenthood would get funding if its application “falls within the government’s parameters.”

“That’s good to know,” Bell said. “Maybe she’s talking about 2011 onwards.”

Soudas also said the government would work with “organizations like International Planned Parenthood that will focus its energy and efforts on the criteria that we have laid out.”

Despite Harper’s efforts, the issue is now back on the front burner of the election campaign, with less than two weeks before Canadians go to the polls.

The Tories have run the same tight, orchestrated campaign that delivered Harper to power in 2006.

But they are clearly moving to avoid a repeat of the 2004 election campaign gaffe that saw backbencher Cheryl Gallant compare abortion to the beheading of hostages in Iraq, spoiling Harper’s first attempt to win power, and giving the Liberals a minority government.

An election year and a public debate could bring an end to botched terminations and Argentina’s appalling figures for maternal mortality

In December 2008 Sophia González sat in an NGO office in one of the large slums surrounding the city of Córdoba in Argentina and described her desperate search for an abortion.

 

With five young children, no work and her husband gone, she says prostitution is the only way she can afford to buy food for her family. When a violent encounter with a client left her pregnant for the sixth time, she says she had no choice but to try and get a termination. “I don’t believe in abortion but I was terrified,” she says. “I knew there was no way I could get food for this baby, I was all on my own and I was doing what I was doing for the sake of the children I had already. I couldn’t see a way out.”

 

She borrowed 50 pesos ($13) from neighbours and went to a place where they “know about these things”. The man there used a plastic catheter and a knitting needle. She didn’t have the extra 250 pesos for anaesthetic. “The pain was so bad afterwards I thought I was going to die,” she says.

 

Despite heavy bleeding she didn’t want to go to the hospital because she was scared she’d be send to prison for having an abortion. In the end her daughter persuaded her to go, something she said probably saved her life. She told me she was one of the lucky ones. “Girls die from abortions all the time,” she says. “But when there is no alternative, what choice for you have?”

 

Argentina’s strict abortion laws prohibit terminations except when the life or health of the pregnant woman is in danger or if the pregnancy results from the rape of a mentally disabled woman. The government has rolled out national contraceptive campaigns, but despite this there are still up to 500,000 clandestine abortions in every year.

 

In a country that has one of the highest levels of healthcare and education in Latin America – and where 98% of women give birth in hospital – the link between the ban on abortion and preventablematernal mortality couldn’t be more exposed.

 

Campaigning groups estimate that up to 400 Argentinian women die every year as a result of botched terminations. According to a UNFPA report last year, abortion remains the leading cause of “elevated” maternal mortality in Argentina and is the primary reason the country has a relatively high and stubbornly resilient maternal mortality rate of 44 deaths per 100,000 births.

 

In fact, women’s groups point out that haemorrhaging and infection/sepsis, identified by the World Health Organisation as the second and third causes of maternal mortality in Argentina, are also likely to be related to illegal abortions after women are admitted with post-termination complications.

 

Despite pledging to slash maternal mortality by 2015, the numbers of women dying in some regions are rising, fuelled by increasing poverty and crumbling health services. In August last year, just a month after Argentina celebrated becoming the first country in Latin America to legalise gay marriage, a damning Human Rights Watch report challenged Argentina’s reputation as a human rights champion by saying that prejudice, failing health services and a failure to act on laws guaranteeing free and universal contraception were needlessly killing hundreds of girls and women every year through risky abortions.

 

In recent months international criticism of Argentina’s poor record on maternal mortality has turned up the heat on politicians to do something to change this.

 

Now, almost exactly two years on from my meeting with Sophia González, could things be changing?

 

Last December Argentina’s congress made the historic announcement that it would open a debate on the legalisation of abortion for the first time in it’s history. Fifty members of congress have signed a petition backing a partial legalisation, and have promised to make it a key debate in the runup to elections in November.

 

While acknowledging this was a huge step forward, campaigners say they still face an uphill struggle to convince politicians and health practitioners that changes to the abortion law will reduce maternal mortality rates.

 

In December, under-secretary of community health Guillermo González said there were still insufficient efforts being made to reduce abortion-related complications.

 

Fusa, an NGO working in a hospital in the poor La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, said doctors were still refusing, “as a matter of conscience”, to operate on women who could legally request an abortion under current laws or who were admitted with post-abortion complications.

 

Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has seen a surge of support following the death of her husband – former president Nestor Kirchner – has been outspoken in her support of the current abortion ban. Ahead of national elections, many groups worry that abortion is just too much of a political hot potato.

 

This year will be crucial in the battle over Argentina’s abortion laws. Whether groups like Fusa can turn what is still a one of the country’s most controversial social, political and religious issues into a question of public health and poverty will mean the difference between life and death for hundreds of women like Sophia González.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/feb/15/argentina-abortion-ban-battle-maternal-mortality

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.

Sign the Petition

https://spreadsheets.google.com/formResponse?formkey=dGtEZzRpaWhZRzhKdU9lOHhPTFhqZVE6MQ&ifq

WE, HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS, DEMAND YOUR SUPPORT TO THIS MANIFESTO BY EXPRESSING OUR INDIGNATION OVER THE WAY THE ISSUE ABORTION IS BEING EXPLOITED IN THE CURRENT ELECTORAL PERIOD IN BRAZIL.

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
Join us and show your support by signing the Manifesto:

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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.