Sexuality Policy Watch

Abortion and the general elections: a chronicle of announced tragedies

Jandira Cruz and Elisângela Barbosa died after resorting to unsafe clandestine abortion clinics. Their deaths are now inevitably interwoven with the 2014 intense and complex electoral process, which began with the tragic death of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos in August. Four years ago, in the course of the 2010 presidential elections, abortion, somehow unexpectedly, became a central topic of the campaign, having been used as an accusation against the candidate Dilma Roussef,  but also as a main currency of bargain.  These virulent electoral games having abortion at its center have negatively impacted on subsequent legislative debates and policies.

Since 2010, there have been regressions in relation to reproductive health policies, as for example the re-conversion of the internationally known Comprehensive Women’s Health Program (PAISM) in a conventional maternal health program. At Congress level, the aggressiveness of anti-abortion forces escalated, while in society, criminalization intensified: police raids against clandestine abortion clinics became systematic, women who resort to abortion are being increasingly indicted, and access to Misoprostol was further restricted (the commercialization of the drug is prohibited in Brazil since the early 1990’s).

Despite these inhospitable conditions, until few weeks ago, when the news on the disappearance of Jandira began circulating, abortion had not entered the central stage of the electoral debate. Early flares around the topic arose back in April and, after the campaign formally began, small party candidates – Eduardo Jorge from the Green Party and Luciana Genro from PSOL – have openly advocated for legal abortion, while the radical conservative fringes are calling for “no voting on candidates that support abortion”. But accusations and furies comparable to what happened in 2010 were not to be seen*.

Then suddenly the life stories and faces of Jandira and Elisângela invaded the front pages and screens.  For those who follow closely the conditions and the politics of abortion in Brazil, it was not difficult to predict that the regressions experienced in the last decade or so —  but in particular, after 2010 — would impact on the access to a clandestine procedure, making abortion less and less safe.  The path leading to the deaths of  Jandira and Elizângela is therefore a chronicle of announced tragedies, which now makes it impossible for electoral and abortion politics to be delinked.

In the course of the last three weeks, the issue has not disappeared from the press, TV and the social media. More importantly, abortion rights activists, but also many unexpected voices,  are vocally calling for the legalization of abortion. Even so — as noted by a number of observers —  public authorities and politicians, in particular those competing for the higher posts of republic, have remained silent. This wall of silence must be pierced.

* In contrast, LGBT rights had much visibility, in particular, after Marina Silva — who substituted Campos in the ticket — reduced to a minimum the contents of her program in this area, immediately after being nominated

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