12/28/2015

We All Want Rights

In Brazil, an impeachment process that opened this month against the president is only part of the current power battles in Congress. 

The president’s opponents are also trying to restrict Brazil’s limited access to abortion, in a move that’s received blow back from women across the country.

Abortion is legal in Brazil only in cases of rape, a brain defect in the fetus, or a life-threatening pregnancy. But even then, it’s not easily accessible. 

In the state of Rio, home to 16 million people, there is just one doctor in the public health system who performs legal abortions. 

Julia Viana, who asked us not to use her real name, works for a public health NGO and deals with these issues up close. 

Before becoming a mother of three, she herself got an illegal abortion in the late 80s; this year, when Viana’s daughter got pregnant, she supported her daughter's decision to end the pregnancy.

Viana says in the past, women seeking abortions had more options, even if they were underground clinics. 

It was relatively easy to find a doctor who did the procedure and wouldn’t report you. Now, she says, it’s a very different story.

When Viana asked her colleagues at work where to get a safe abortion these days, she says they told her to hush up.

“They looked at me funny, saying ‘You're exposing yourself.’”

She found that underground clinics had closed across Rio in the last few years.

Viana says that intensifying politics around abortion in Brazil have put police under more pressure to make arrests for something to which they previously turned a blind eye. 

She adds that doctors who attend rape victims are known to lecture their patients or even give subpar treatment.

 “I hear reports of procedures done without anesthesia and doctors racking up wait time, with the idea of sending women the message, ‘You’re responsible for this.’”

If a bill in Brazil's Congress passes, rape victims will also have to register at a police station and get their bodies inspected in order to get treated at the hospital, be it for an abortion or for regular attendance after rape, which includes medicine to prevent HIV and the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy. 

Activists say this will discourage women from seeking the healthcare they need, especially in many neighborhoods where police aren't trusted.

Last month, thousands of women in Rio protested against this bill.
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