This year on September 28th, the Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion, will be met in Brazil by a historic opportunity. In March 2017, the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), with support from Anis – Institute of Bioethics, filed a petition with the Brazilian Supreme Court calling for the decriminalization of abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. It was no small feat: under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, only a few organizations and government officials are eligible for bringing a constitutional case before the Supreme Court. It took almost 30 years for such a basic demand for women’s human rights to reach the Court.
In Brazil, abortion is a crime under the 1940 Penal Code; the only three exceptions are in cases of rape, risk to the woman’s life, and fetal anencephaly. The latter legal ground was granted in a Supreme Court decision, in 2012, in a case that was also supported by Anis. The current petition states that the criminalization of abortion violates women’s rights to dignity, citizenship, non-discrimination, life, equality, freedom, freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, health, and family planning, all of which are existing rights protected under the Brazilian Constitution.
The 2016 National Abortion Survey found that in 2015 alone, more than half a million women had abortions in Brazil. By the age of 40, one in five Brazilian women have had at least one abortion. Beyond being a common event in a woman’s reproductive life, abortion is a safe health care procedure, capable of protecting their sexual, reproductive and mental health. But the criminalization of abortion turns this common life event into a life-threatening and stigmatizing experience for many, especially poor, Black, Brown and Indigenous women, who have a harder time accessing abortions in adequate conditions due to racial and class inequalities.
Adding to preventable health risks, women who have abortions in Brazil often do it alone and in secrecy, given the fear of being harassed by friends and family and facing criminal charges. There are a number of cases of women who go to hospitals looking for post abortion care and end up being reported by unethical doctors who violate their professional duty of confidentiality.
Therefore, the Supreme Court case poses a question for Brazil: will women be heard in their demand for sexual and reproductive justice? So far, six months later, the Court has shown no sign of listening. After collecting women’s abortion stories, on September 28th Anis and Think Olga will release the campaign My Abortion Story. A new story will be released each week for a year. Debora Diniz, Anis’ leading researcher who collected the stories, shares an invitation: “can you listen? If so, here are the women and their stories. They are personal and intimate memories, waiting for our respect. They are the lived experiences in contrast with the abstraction of numbers. We know that by the age of 40, at least one in five women has had an abortion in Brazil. But the numbers do not seem to touch us like the sharpness of the biographies.”
To read Diniz’s entire testimony about the campaign, go to the My Abortion Story tumblr, also available in Spanish and in Portuguese, and stay tuned for the stories that will be released on September 28th.