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Brazilian women break taboo to talk about illegal abortions

In this Nov. 13, 2017 photo, a woman with the word "Legalize" painted on her mouth marches against a recent congressional committee vote to make abortion illegal without exception nationwide, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo,File)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The doctor was late. So the women sat quietly in the waiting area of a clinic in an upscale neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro until they were overcome by thoughts of what they were about to do and what might happen to them. They began to talk.

One woman said she was in a relationship with a drug lord and knew he would force her to have “his” baby if he found out she was pregnant. Another was a successful businesswoman who had separated from her children’s father and became pregnant accidentally by another man. A third just cried.

A fourth, Roberta Cardoso, had become pregnant accidentally with her boyfriend and felt she wasn’t mature enough to become a mother.

“At that moment I probably knew much more about their stories than their families did,” Cardoso, 26, said during a recent interview with The Associated Press.

In this Dec. 20, 2017 photo, Roberta Cardoso poses for a portrait in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Women like Cardoso going public to speak about their abortions, hoping to galvanize public support for abortion rights. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)

As in many countries, abortion is a subject of taboo in Brazil, a socially conservative nation with the world’s largest Roman Catholic population as well as a growing evangelical Christian community. Abortion is illegal here except when a woman’s life is at risk, when she has been raped or when the fetus has a usually fatal brain abnormality called anencephaly.

But amid a rising tide of conservatism in Brazil and concerns that abortion will become further restricted, women are coming out of the shadows to tell their stories in the hopes of galvanizing support for expanded access to abortion.

“We have stopped thinking of this as a private subject. It’s a public subject,” said Rosangela Talib, a coordinator for Catholics for Choice, a leading advocate in Brazil for reproductive rights.

200 deaths

An estimated 400,000 to 800,000 women have an abortion each year in Brazil — the vast majority of them illegal. According to Health Ministry statistics, more than 200 women died in 2015 after abortions. If caught, a woman can be sentenced to up to three years and the performer of the procedure up to four, though prosecutions are rare.

More than 170 women, including prominent actresses, directors, and academics, have signed a manifesto declaring publicly that they had abortions. Thousands of women have also taken to the streets to protest attempts to further restrict abortion, and more than 34,000 have signed petitions sent to Congress.

When the Anis-Bioethics Institute, an NGO that conducts research on women’s issues, put out a call on Facebook asking for women to tell their stories, 110 came forward in just 19 days.

One of them was Rebeca Mendes, who was seeking an abortion.

In this Dec. 11, 2017 photo, Rebeca Mendes poses for a photo in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Brazil’s Supreme Court rejected her request for a legal abortion. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

The NGO filed an urgent request with the Supreme Court to terminate Mendes’ pregnancy, drawing national attention and putting a name and a face to its quest to legalize abortion. The petition was denied and Mendes eventually had the procedure legally in Colombia.

The wave of public testimony is amplifying a heated debate in Latin America’s largest country, where conservatives fear the Supreme Court could rule to legalize the procedure and women’s activists fear Congress will roll back the already limited abortion rights.

In November 2016, a Supreme Court justice wrote that criminalizing first-trimester abortions violated women’s fundamental rights, a decision that granted the habeas corpus release of two people accused of running an abortion clinic.

Hours after the decision, Congress created a special commission to clarify the law. It has proposed amending Brazil’s constitution to state that protections for life begin at conception. Lawmaker Sostenes Cavalcante said it would be supported by all “who believe in life” and opposed by those “who want to kill the defenseless.”

Cavalcante described the measure as a complete abortion ban, though the lawmaker who wrote it has since said it would not change current law and is meant only to hold off any attempt to further legalize abortion.

Most Brazilians oppose abortion

Jefferson Drezett, who runs the abortion and sexual violence response department at Perola Byington state hospital in Sao Paulo, said abortion services are already insufficient for women who seek them legally, for reasons ranging from poor management to pressure from politicians and religious groups.

“It’s been almost 80 years that the law (that includes the exceptions) exists, and we still haven’t managed to make this law valid in Brazilian public hospitals,” he said.

Support for legal abortions has been rising, though most Brazilians apparently still oppose them.

A Datafolha survey released Dec. 31 said 36 percent of Brazilians interviewed were in favor of decriminalizing abortion, up from 23 percent in 2016. But 57 percent were still against abortions. The survey interviewed over 2,700 people from 192 municipalities in Brazil and had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

In this Dec. 17, 2017 photo, a woman wears a shirt with text written in Portuguese on its back that reads “If not me, who? If not today, when? To be a woman is to battle! ” (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Among those who want fewer restrictions is Raissa Arruda, a 30-year-old artist who told AP: “I’ve lost the shame around speaking out. … I think we need to speak, so we can decriminalize it.”

Arruda was 18 when she discovered she was pregnant, and her mother didn’t talk to her for weeks after she told her. Arruda eventually had a miscarriage after several painful weeks of feeling judged. When she got pregnant again a month later, she told almost no one. She couldn’t stand the shame.

She borrowed money from a friend to buy misoprostol, a drug that can be used to cause an abortion. Since the 1990s, misoprostol, which has uses ranging from treating ulcers to inducing labor, has been legally available only at hospital pharmacies in Brazil. However, Arruda said everyone knows where to get it in Florianopolis, the southern city where she grew up.

Djacelina dos Prazeres Chrispim also decided to share her story in an interview with AP.
Fifteen years ago, Chrispim went to a private hospital in Sao Paulo to have an abortion. As a black woman who had a turbulent childhood, she said she didn’t want to bring a child into the world who she feared would face racism and exclusion.

While she had spoken about her experience with some friends and women’s groups over the years, Chrispim had never talked about it publicly until now.

“A woman only has an abortion because she needs to,” said the 42-year-old food activist. “When people speak, it demystifies it.”

About the author

The Associated Press


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  • I’ll preface this with it’s an extremely cold comment to make, but, if the women who died were so concerned about life, why was it ok to take their babies life? They got exactly what they were doing to another, and while sad, I’m sure they understand the results since they were also good enough for their innocent babies.

    Exodus 23:7 – Stay far away from a false charge, and don’t kill the innocent or the righteous, because I won’t acquit the guilty

  • Yep, this is your typically cold and condescending remark. Mandatory birth and devil take them afterwards because they’re unchurched, at least that’s what the Christian fascists think in my state.
    Do you have any idea of the abuse heaped upon children born out of wedlock in forced birth countries? It’s not unlike the abuse dished out in the USA before citizens realized they were creating another category in the caste system.

  • Good for the women in Brazil, like Ireland…pushing back on archaic BS religious restrictions. Abortion is a perfectly good moral option. Screw any church that doesn’t like it.

  • children heap abuse on other children for wearing glasses, being too fat, having a pimple…..Your comment is just another example of that, Navy – they are no different than any other children. Abortion is murder
    Also, from your “forced birth countries” comment, am I to assume that you agree with Margaret Sanger that black babies should be aborted? After all, is it not yet a schism in the US to be black?

  • Where does Margaret Sanger say black babies should be aborted?

    Thanks for supplying a reference to back up this claim that many fact-checking websites have deemed to be flatly false.

    If you can look past the liberal editorials:

    “Colored people are like human weeds and are to be exterminated.” So said Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Seventy-eight percent of Planned Parenthood clinics are in black neighborhoods. Blacks make up only 12% of the population, but 35% of America’s aborted babies are black. Half of black pregnancies end in abortion…

    And, most condemning:

  • I asked you where Margaret Sanger says — anywhere — that “black babies should be aborted.”

    You respond with a made-up quote that is found NOWHERE in anything Margaret Sanger said or wrote.

    As I expected . . . .

    Does it never bother your conscience that you continue lying in this way, while representing yourself as a defender of Christian values?

  • I see…..another case of what you don’t want to believe isn’t true…..thanks William.

  • Excuse me, Sandi?

    You attribute words to Margaret Sanger — two false quotations, in fact — which she DID NOT say, and then you state that I do not want to believe what is true?

    Something’s very twisted here. Something’s very twisted in your notion of the truth.

    You persistently post what is downright false information on these threads. When challenged to cite a bona fide source to verify the false information you have posted here, you cannot do so — because, over and over again, you make false statements here.

    At the same time, you represent yourself as a champion of biblical Christian morality.

    The scriptures are very clear about the sinfulness of bearing false witness.

  • You can speak for Ms Sanger now William.
    The sources I reported said she did say those things. So hon, it’s seems to be more of your problem than mine.

  • So your opposition to abortion clearly has nothing to do with the sanctity of life and its protection. Thank you for making it clear its all about control and s1utshaming.

    BTW no babies, innocent or not are killed in abortion. Babies are born. Sanctity of life is not premised on your moral approval of people. Its based on being alive. Your use of the term “innocent” shows any such moral pretensions are nonsense. “Innocent” life is worth protecting, all others are unworthy to live.

  • Yup, lying and wishing people dead are perfectly moral activities for you if you claim that God says so.

  • Actually we have something better than Exodus — Yahweh’s a sexual abuser…

    Jeremiah 13:26 “…declares the Lord…”
    “I (Yahweh) myself will pull up your skirt over your face and expose your shame..”

    Of course women can avoid this fate by just obeying the abuser !!

  • Yes, this history is from when Israel rebelled and He used this analogy. Are we not lucky enough to have a God who loves us enough to experience hurt when we hurt Him?
    That is how much He loves you too Damien.
    If you were trying to make another point, you should have read the full scripture.

  • Don’t worry, non-Christians read plenty of scripture, more than most Christians…and there is a lot more God-ordered rape and depravity in the scripture.

  • It’s the cult of Moloch. The most sickening thing about the cult is that some people who call themselves “Christians” support the Moloch cult.

    They should find the Last Judgment to be highly educational.

  • She doesn’t. It would be like trying to explain Rembrandt to someone who was born blind. These people have no concept of what conscience is.

  • Yup, demanding that pregnant women be sacrificed on the alter of sanctimony by half baked religious control freaks is as good a definition of the cult of moloch.

  • “These people”, being Bible thumpers who mistake following arbitrary dictates of religious leaders with moral concepts and action. They have no idea what conscience is.

  • Abortion sounds like it fits the term for murder in every since of the word. I continue to be amazed at the capacity of human beings for heartless in humanity and arrogance, the presumption that one can decide to end the life of another human being who has done nothing but exist. If fact the capacity for inhumanity is so great that human beings will describe others as not being fully human (for whatever reason) to justify their destruction of the person(s) who are perceived as a real or potential burden. There is really no difference from the devestation that is abortion and any other mass killing of people in human history. The mainline justifying logic is the same. It makes for good evidence for evolution, we are nothing but animals and probably not the most evolved species after all.

    Surely we could be better than this, to slaughter our own young.

  • You make me believe in evolution Spuddie. Human beings can be the most inhumane animals I know.

  • Nobody has to care whether you believe in evolution or not. Its acceptance isn’t a function of belief. Its a function of accumulation of evidence and research. Evolution is the current prevailing scientific theory on the subject of biological diversity.

    “Human beings can be the most inhumane animals I know.”

    Especially those who actively want women injured or harmed because they want to feel morally superior to others and control their lives. Like your average fetus worshiper.

    I will put it to you this way. I am not a fan of abortion. The right and access to it is a right I defend vociferously as I do many other civil liberties. I also acknowledge that the decision to have one is none of my business, nor yours. It rests entirely with the woman who is considering it. It is not a moral position to demand it banned. It is not a practical one either according to the article.

  • GOP anti-choice congressman who slept with patients and paid for their abortions says “God has forgiven me”

  • There is a saying: If men were the ones to undergo abortion, abortion would be a religious rite. I tend to agree.
    Until a baby (or fetus) is able to survive outside its mothers body, its continuing life is at her pleasure. I am no fan of abortion, and generally consider it to be quite heartbreaking. But unless a woman has control over her body, she is little more than a slave.
    I know the argument goes like this: well, she should have kept her legs together, or used birth control, or some such reasoning. The thing is, so much sexual activity is coerced (by men), whether in relationships or not, that I do not see how a woman should sacrifice her health and the other long term effects of pregnancy and childbirth for a child she does not want, the product of a sex act she may not have wanted either.

  • You can’t even see the illogic in your argument. This is not greater injury or harm or moral superiority or control of another than evidenced in abortion and those who defend it for the victim has no voice, no power, no rights and is not even considered human by those who so readily dispose of its short life.

  • There is no logic in the fetus worship view. There is no morality to it either. Your remarks are just narcissistic bloviating and stipulation.

    First of all, banning abortion clearly doesn’t stop it in any appreciable way other than make it more dangerous.

    Secondly, it’s a view which allegedly shows concern for life, yet has utter contempt for the lives of actual born people in existence. You are considering all women as your chattel property. Who must defer to you for their intimate decisions concerning their body.

    You can get off the high and mighty act, it’s phony. It’s all about dominance and control over others. You don’t care about life, born or unborn. You want control.

    Nobody ever has to give a crap about your alleged concern for the unborn, because it’s not your body, not ever going to be your decision and nobody required your input here. Your entire POV involves attacking the personhood of women. It’s immoral junk.

  • So women and their bodies are of no consequence. They must defer to you for their personal decisions as some self styled social better. I can think of no other expression of arrogance and disregard for life than your position. One which people are of no matter and must be subordinate to your will.

    You can spare me the fake concern for life here. It’s a sham. A pretense to what is really a display of contempt and loathing for the idea of women as people with lived not subject to your will.