Brazilian congressional committee votes to ban all abortions

Ban would apply to all cases, including rape and where mother's life is in danger

November 09, 2017

Abortion is currently illegal in Brazil except in a few extreme circumstances. In this July 27, 2013 photo, people protest at a pro-choice rally in Rio de Janeiro. The sign reads 'No more criminalization of women, abortion is a right.' (Pilar Olivares/Reuters)

A congressional committee led by evangelical Christians has voted to ban abortion in Brazil in all situations, including cases of rape and where the mother's life is in danger.

The decision was approved 18-1 late Wednesday by a special committee considering a constitutional amendment to extend maternity leave for mothers of premature babies.


The single vote against the ban was cast by the only woman present during the session, Erika Kokay of the Workers Party, who called the decision a manoeuvre by the committee's pro-life evangelical majority.

Abortion is illegal in predominantly Catholic Brazil except when the pregnancy is the result of a rape or puts the mother's life at risk.

In 2012, the country's Supreme Court authorized abortion for fetuses with anencephaly, a severe birth defect that limits life expectancy to a few hours or days.

Underground abortions

More than one million abortions are carried out at clandestine clinics each year in Brazil and thousands of women end up in hospital as a result of botched procedures, according to government estimates.

Abortion is a divisive issue in the predominantly Catholic nation. In this June 5, 2013 photo, evangelical Christians participate in the 'March For Family' demonstration against gay marriage and abortion in front of the National Congress in the capital, Brasilia. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

But even the limited circumstances where abortions are legal the procedure has been targeted by a growing evangelical caucus in Congress that has led to a conservative trend in lawmaking on social issues.

"To defend abortion, like it or not, is a Satanic, diabolical and destructive act," evangelical congressman Pastor Eurico told the committee, brandishing a replica of a 12-week-old fetus.

Legislative hurdle still ahead

The move to criminalize all cases of abortion would require supermajorities, or two-thirds of the votes in both chambers of Congress, as it is part of a constitutional amendment.

The measure could clear those hurdles as part of a trade-off for other legislation the governing coalition seeks to pass, such as pension reform needed to plug a gaping budget deficit.

With files from CBC News
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