Bill to Change Abortion Law Encounters Resistance
Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic country, and the church’s influence on its social policies is evident in the country’s abortion law. Abortion is illegal in nearly all cases with only a few exceptions, such as rape. Lawmakers are now considering a change that would make the law even more restrictive.
A bill before Congress would require a rape victim to undergo intensive questioning, placing the burden on her to prove that she was raped, according to L’Agence France-Presse (AFP). The measure has sparked protests from those who say that the proposed requirements go too far.
In addition to rape, Brazilian law currently allows a woman to have an abortion if the procedure is necessary to save the mother’s life or if the fetus has anencephaly, a condition in which the fetus is missing parts of the brain and skull. The new draft law would only allow physicians to conduct abortions, and any person conducting an abortion contrary to the law could face up to four years in prison.
Under the proposed law, a woman who becomes pregnant after a rape would need to file a police report and then undergo forensic and psychological examinations before she can have an abortion, explains Refinery29. If anyone, including a doctor, helps a woman get an abortion without fulfilling the requirements, they could face prison sentences.
The abortion law bill was introduced by Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of Brazil’s lower house. Supporters of the proposed law say the additional requirements would strengthen rape investigations and lead to greater punishment of rapists. “The more we carry out these exams, the better the chances of punishing the rapist, of putting him in jail,” lawmaker Evandro Gussi told AFP.
But opponents say that rape is difficult to prove, and the bill would have the effect of further restricting access to abortion. Sinara Gumieri, a lawyer and researcher at Brazil’s Institute for Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender, tells AFP that the examination requirement of the bill treats victims as suspects. In fact, the new requirements could actually deter women from reporting sexual assault. If that is the case, the proposed new abortion law could end up compounding the rape problem rather than solving it.