What is the future of abortion rights in Brazil?

“What is sadness for your daughter today will be happiness for a couple,” a Brazilian judge told a Santa Catarina mother in June. The eleven year old girl had been sentenced to maintain a pregnancy resulting from rape; the court, denying her the right to an abortion, instead encouraged her to give the baby up for adoption.

The case has shocked Latin America’s largest country, a place where multiple rape-related abortion cases are reported almost weekly in the media. Official records show a woman was raped in Brazil every ten minutes; 70 percent of the victims are under the age of eighteen. According to Public Safety Directoryevery hour four girls under the age of thirteen are raped in the country.

At the same time, access to abortion for women and girls has declined. In Brazil, abortion has been illegal since 1890, although exceptions were made from 1940 for cases of rape and life-threatening conditions. More recently, the right to abortion has been granted to women carrying a fetus anencephalya condition in which parts of the brain are missing and long-term survival outside the womb is rare.


In the Santa Catarina case, the ten-year-old rape victim’s mother took her to the hospital for an abortion.

The hospital refused to perform the procedure, arguing that it could legally only do so until the twentieth week of pregnancy, and that the girl was already past her twenty-second week.

However, abortion deadlines for those who are eligible (including those who become pregnant from rape) not exist in Brazilian legislation.

Anthropologist Debora Diniz, coordinator of the Brazilian Abortion Survey (PNA), explained via Twitter how these limits further traumatize victims of assault, leaving them with few or no options: “When violence sexual and, therefore, pregnancy are discovered late, it’s the secret, the fear, the lack of knowledge,” she said. said to the Metropolises. “Thus, a gestation limit is an unfair additional barrier, in which the original scene of violence against girls is ignored.”

The case ended up in court, where Judge Joana Ribeiro Zimmer coerced the child into forgoing an abortion, suggesting she should instead maintain the pregnancy for ‘one or two more weeks’ before inducing early labor to give the fetus a chance. of survival.

“Do you want to endure a little longer?” Zimmer asked the girl at the hearing. The prosecutor pointed out that the fetus was “already a baby, a child” and asked if the girl would consider adoption, “instead of letting it die in agony?”

However, these arguments are neither factual nor ethical. Studies show that the chances of a fetus surviving of a pregnancy generated by girls with immature bodies are small. On the other hand, the work induced in these circumstances gives a high risk of death and other long-term health complications for these girls, not to mention the immense psychological harm it can cause them.

Three of the largest countries in Latin America – all predominantly Catholic countries – have decriminalized abortion. But not Brazil, where the Ministry of Health recently underline that “every abortion is a crime”.

“It is a fanaticism that tortures girls and women”, Diniz said arguments underlying the decision. “An eleven-year-old girl, pregnant with rape, needs treatment. Never cornered, judged or intimidated,” she said. added.

At another point in the hearing, the judge tried to convince the mother and daughter to continue with the pregnancy and proceed with the adoption of the child. “We have 30,000 couples who want this baby,” she added.

Dissatisfied with their refusal and against the wishes of the mother, Zimmer chooses to put the girl in a children’s shelter, on the pretext that she would be estranged from her rapist, despite the fact that he no longer lived with his family. While the girl was at the shelter, mother and daughter were separated for a month, which further delayed the abortion.

After widespread outrage over the case and the intervention of other judges, the girl was released and allowed to undergo the procedure.


As Brazil’s decriminalization movement stalls for a decadethe right to terminate a pregnancy is now guaranteed by law in other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, French Guiana, Colombia and parts of Mexico.

Uruguay, a pioneer of the right to abortion in South America, will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Law on voluntary termination of pregnancy this October. The legislation allows access to safe and free abortion, for any reason, up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. For cases of rape with legal complaint, abortion is legal until the fourteenth week.

Unlike many countries, where the abortion debate arises in legislative or judicial spheres, in Argentina abortion protections have been native President Alberto Fernández in the introduction and adoption of the law. With huge support from women organize demonstrations in the streets dressed in green or wearing green bandanas, the law was approved by the Argentine Congress at the end of 2020.


Green bandanas have become the symbol of the fight for abortion rights in Latin America. The symbol has its seeds in 1970s Buenos Aires, when women wearing white cloth scarves gathered outside the presidential palace to protest the disappearance of their children during Argentina’s last military dictatorship. Members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo still running weekly today.

Decades later, Argentinian women had a similar idea, only this time they decided to use green, Marta Alanis, founder of the group Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics for the right to decide) has explained. In discussions with her friend Susana Chiarotti, they came across green as the color of hope, nature, growth and life – appropriate for popular resistance to the “pro-life” movement.

“The term ‘life’ should come back to us”, Chiarotti had said.

In this country with a Catholic majority, conversations on the legalization of abortion nevertheless spread everywhere during the following years, “in homes, neighborhoods, bakeries”, recalls Alanis.

The green bandana symbol trapped also outside Argentina, in Chile, Peru and Colombia, activists from each country creating their own versions. In September 2021, the Supreme Court of Mexico vote to decriminalize abortion, and this action was followed by a similar ruling in Colombian courts in February 2022.

Three of the largest countries in Latin America – all predominantly Catholic countries – have decriminalized abortion. But not Brazil, where the Ministry of Health recently underline that “every abortion is a crime”.

“As Christianity approaches and later appropriates the state, we realize that the Christian view that was once marginal is beginning to make the anti-abortion view prevail”, historian, philosopher and theologian Gerson Leite de Moraes told the BBC. He worries that “the conservative wave that we see in the United States” has “reflections here, since Brazil is a poorly made copy of what is happening there”.

“As soon as we have a state with its own laws, whether or not it allows [allowing] abortion is a sign of democratic stability and protection of fundamental rights,” Diniz said. say it Veja. “What is happening in the United States looks like a historic counter-process of fundamental rights, because there has been a weakening of democracy under the Donald Trump administration.”

Moraes pointed out that the anti-abortion movement originated in the Catholic Church, but ended up being copied by evangelical Christianity. “Some groups have found a catalyst theme in abortion, which [them] together, making it become a flag. These are more conservative, more radical, fundamentalist groups,” he explained.

Despite recent events, there is still some hope. “The setback in the United States will have the opposite effects for the contagion of conservative waves,” Diniz said. “The force of the green tide that has left Latin America and spread is back to ordinary Brazilian women who are starting to talk about violence, misogyny and patriarchy.”

Barry F. Howard