the setback of women’s rights in bolsonaro’s brazil

Bruna Della Torre

Imagem: Reprodução M.A.M.I

On May 22nd, a ten-year girl who had been raped went to a public hospital accompanied by her mother to obtain an abortion. According to the law, abortion is only legal in Brazil in cases of anencephaly, rape, and risk to the pregnant woman’s life. Even though the girl had just discovered she was pregnant, the hospital refused to do the procedure without juridical authorization because she was 22 weeks along. The hospital established a rule that the procedure was only possible until 20 weeks of gestation (which is not specified in the law). She was sent to a shelter while her case went to court for weeks. In a video released by The Intercept Brasil, the judge responsible for the case tried to convince the girl to go on with the pregnancy.  She kept asking if the girl could bear that for just for a little longer until the baby could be born when it could be given up for adoption even though this ignored the many risks pregnancy imposes upon on a ten-year-old girl. The public prosecutor in the case told the girl and her mother that if the abortion were performed, the baby, which was already developed, would die in agony, crying. This was not true; the abortion procedure in Brazil extracts the fetus without cardiac activity.

According to a report published by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, Damares Regina Alves, an Evangelical pastor and former secretary of the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, tried to stop the abortion by offering benefits to the family to keep the fetus and by pressuring the authorities in the state to avoid the abortion. The girl received the procedure (even though she had to travel to another state to obtain the abortion with a huge personal and psychological cost after the process).

Now, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights is demanding that the Public Ministry investigate the doctors who carried out the procedure and The Intercept for publishing the video. The Health Ministry is also revising the document “Technical attention for prevention, assessment, and management in cases of abortion.” One of the those invited to debate the document is Joana Ribeiro, the judge who played the abovementioned role in the case.

These events summarize what is happening in Brazil under Bolsonaro’s government. In addition to the president’s many misogynistic statements, this Ministry aims to undo the few public policies that protect women in Brazil. During the last years, Alves defended the “Estatuto do Nascituro” a project archived in 2007 that criminalizes abortion in all situations. She also proposed a project known as “the rape pension”: an 18-year pension for women who got pregnant because of rape that would allow her to raise the child. Already as Minister, Alves accused the left of defending the legalization of pedophilia in Brazil. She connects the struggle for reproductive rights and cannabis legalization with pedophilia practices. Alves was also involved in creating the project “Municipality Friend of the Family,” which seeks to “implement actions that value the family, social protection and the strengthening of conjugal bonds,” excluding non-heterosexual families and single mothers.

In addition to the access to abortion becoming much more difficult and persecuted in this context — even within the parameters in which it is considered legal and in a framework that reinforces heteronormativity, the Bolsonaro government has consciously pursued a setback in women’s rights for other reasons. According to Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos, the budget to combat violence against women in 2022 is three times smaller compared to 2020. This happens even though according to “Fórum de Segurança Pública,” one in every 4 Brazilian women (24.4%) over 16 years old claims to have suffered some violence or aggression during the covid-19 pandemic. That means about 17 million women have endured physical, psychological, or sexual violence in this period. Bolsonaro revised and relaxed many gun-control laws in Brazil, which has also increased violence against women.

As in many other countries in Latin America, women, especially racialized poor women, are responsible for a significant part of the reproductive work in society – waged and non-waged. With the neoliberal cuts to education, childcare, and public transportation, women were one of the most affected populations by the pandemic: financially, psychologically, and physically. In many states in the country, because of the rise in gas prices, women have been using wood for cooking. Even though their work in their own house, in hospitals, and in schools as caretakers are essential for society to work and reproduce, women are one of the most attacked sectors in society in Bolsonaro’s violent government.


Bruna Della Torre is a fellow at the Käte Hamburger Centre for Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Studies at Heidelberg University, executive editor of Crítica Marxista, and a member of the “Feminist Marxism” collective.

Este texto foi publicado originalmente no Washington Brazil Office.

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