By Sonia Corrêa*
Since the article Abortion and Human Rights: Will Brazil be the Next Nicaragua? has been published in Reality Check, in June 2010, the debate on abortion has continued to interweave with the complex political dynamics of the the complex political dynamics of the electoral period in Brazil. Even before the campaign was in its full fledge mode after August, abortion had already become one main issue. Firstly because quite early in time the press called upon candidates to manifest their view on the subject, making it clear that any of the main candidates were in favor of legal abortion and most principally that in most cases positions have shifted, sometimes dramatically.
Marina Silva from the green party, who belongs to the Assembly of God had quite early declared to be against abortion for religious reasons and, though pressured by supporters who are in favor of abortion, has since then sustained the discourse that the question should be resolved in a referendum. Dilma Roussef, from the Worker’s Party, who led the pool until the first round of the presidential run on October 3rd., in early 2009 had declared to Marie Claire magazine that abortion was always a difficult decision, but that it should be considered a major public health problem and therefore legalized. By May 2010, she had already moved towards a much more careful position to say, in consonance with the III National Plan for Human Rights that “abortion is a matter of public health services”.
However, this “strategic” retreat has not spared her from the strong pressure and attack on the part of dogmatic religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, which led her to have a closed conversation with the President on the National Bishops Conference. And since then her pervious support to legal abortion has been extensively used by the PSDB campaign and other sectors. Last but not least candidate Serra, who as the minister of health, in 1998, has signed the MoH protocol that ensure access to abortion in the two cases permitted by law, has fully retrogressed towards an open anti-abortion position and a discourse on maternal health. As if this was not enough his wife made a public declaration saying that Dilma was not trustful because she supported legal abortion. In the last week of the campaign the scenario is such that just two presidential candidates from minority left wing parties openly defend legal openly support legal abortion. But on the side of what really counts – meaning the competitive candidates — abortion has become as never before a major and divisive electoral issue. Polls have shown that in the last week Dilma has lost her advantage over other candidates, because of a wide range of factors, there including a corruption scandal that erupted in early September. But various analysts discussing the electoral scenario today, include the “abortion issue” as one factor explaining why she is loosing ground. At two days for the elections, the candidate sat with representatives of the National Pastors Conference and with Catholic representatives to discuss rumors about her positions on abortion and gay marriage. She then declared herself personally against abortion, but defended public health care to women who have undergone abortion. Marina Silva declared that Dilma Roussef changed her discourse due to “electoral convenience”, and the issue gripped the main mass media vehicles. In addition, big paid ads of pro-life candidates were posted, in colors, in the mains pages of some the major newspapers, which read VOTE AGAINST ABORTION, literally.
The “abortion issue”, surprisingly enough, has also spilled over Marina, who was the main beneficiary of the votes Dilma lost, particularly in Rio and Brasilia. Also in the last week of campaign one of the better known evangelical pastors of Rio has publicly declared that he was not supporting her anymore because she was “lying about her views on abortion”, in his words her proposal of a referendum was a mere smoke curtain to hide her project to legalize the procedure. And he shifted his vote to Serra.
In other words, while it is certainly premature to predict that Brazil will become or not Nicaragua, it is quite clear that Brazilian electoral politics is now quite similar to what has been witnessed in the US in the last two decades. But, spots of light can be identified in this shadowy scenario. In July, during the 11th Latin American and Caribbean regional Conference on Women, sponsored by ECLAC, the Brazilian delegation pushed for a final declaration reaffirming Cairo and Beijing language on abortion. Ironically enough the US delegation did not join the consensus, and the reasons that may explain that are not yet fully clarified.
More importantly, feminist organizations and other sectors supporting legal abortion have been mobilizing as never, in recent years. The marking of September 28th this year included a wide range of events, as well as the launching of looking forward documents, there including a new draft provision aimed at legalizing abortion. This effort, initiated by CLADEM, the Feminist Network on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and the Commission on Citizenship and Reproduction, is supported by a number of other organizations and has been presented to society as a basis for discussion that may lead to a legal reform proposal in the 2011 legislature.
On October 3rd, the outcome of the elections resulted in 47 percent of votes to Dilma, 33 percent to Serra and 20 to Marina, which means that a second round will take place on October 31st. Inevitably, the “abortion issue” will remain high in the agenda.
Sonia Corrêa is Co-chair of the Sexuality Policy Watch.