BRAZIL – Far-right politicians introduce a bill that equates abortion after 22 weeks to murder

PHOTO: SOS Corpo/Facebook

Protests broke out in major cities across Brazil after far-right politicians attempted to fast track legislation that would equate abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy to murder, even when the pregnancy is the result of rape, and even though abortion is largely restricted in Brazil already. It would mean women who terminate pregnancies after 22 weeks could be jailed for up to 20 years. Brazil’s ruling party opposes the move but conservatives in Congress are attempting to push the bill through.

About 10,000 protestors, mostly women, filled several blocks of São Paulo’s main boulevard on Saturday afternoon, organizers estimated. It was the biggest demonstration yet, following events in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Florianopolis, Recife, Manaus, and other cities. Many wore the green scarf common to all abortion rights demonstrations across Latin America.

Outside Rio’s legislative chamber, when the bill was tabled, a group of women were protesting, carrying banners saying rapists should not be fathers, and children should not be mothers. Across the country thousands of others were also protesting. To rally their supporters, abortion rights groups created the campaign slogan: ‘A child is not a mother’, which has flooded social media. Placards, stickers and banners emblazoned with the slogan, as this one, have abounded during demonstrations.


Abortion is already a crime in Brazil, and with exceptions it is punishable with up to three years in prison. At the moment, it is only legal when the pregnancy results from rape, threatens the woman’s life, or in cases of anencephaly. This new anti-abortion bill would limit even these rights only up to 22 weeks. Up to now, there has been no legal upper time limit. The movement “Neither Jailed Nor Dead”, who are campaigning for the decriminalization of abortion, say the bill would cause a public health crisis if it were passed. “Poor people, people who live in faraway places where they don’t have services for abortion, those are the ones who will suffer more,” said Angela Freitas, who is part of the movement. Others have highlighted that it would mean convicted rapists could receive lesser prison sentences than their victims. Experts say that access to abortion later in pregnancy reflects inequalities in access to health care. Children, poor women, Black women and those living in rural areas are particularly at risk.

“For children, it is common for a pregnancy to be discovered only after 22 weeks,” Ivanilda Figueiredo, a professor of law at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said. For example, children might not know that menstrual periods — a sign that a woman isn’t pregnant — are monthly.

Julia Carneiro writes that there is a very clear alignment between the far right and anti-gender, anti-feminist, and anti-human rights perspectives. The far right has, among its members, conservative religious men, evangelical and Catholic, but also police and military men.

The human rights minister Silvio Almeida called the bill “immoral”.

Much of the anger is focused on the impact the law change could have on under-18s. Of the 74,930 people who were victims of rape in Brazil in 2022, 88.7% were female and 61.4% were under 14 years of age, according to a 2023 study by the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, an independent group who track crimes. If the bill were to pass, self-administering or consenting to an abortion could result in a jail sentence equivalent to those handed out in “simple homicide” cases, which range from 6 to 20 years. The law would also apply to health professionals carrying out the procedure. Simple homicide, under Brazil’s penal code, is when one person kills another with intent. That is, a fetus would be treated as an independent person.

  • In 2019, only around 72 pregnancies were legally terminated in children and adolescents under 14 years of age.
  • In the 10 years from 2013 to 2022, the average number of live births to girls under 14 years of age was 21,905 per year. In other words, every year almost 22,000 girls leave childhood or adolescence to become mothers.
  • Most of the girls who have given birth – more than 70% – are Black and face bigger obstacles to recognizing and reporting violence. Due to the concentration of abortion services only in main cities, lack of resources to reach them, poorer access to information, and institutional racism, they also face even more barriers to accessing a legal abortion.
  • Having in mind that forced pregnancy is considered torture, it has multiple negative effects on women’s and girl’s mental health, even leading to suicidal ideation.

In addition to disrupting the childhoods of Brazilian girls who are victims of violence, especially those who are black, poorer, or live far from healthcare services, the proposal also aims to ensure that adult women who are victims of rape and who can only find a way to have an abortion after 22 weeks, as well as the professionals who provide care, are convicted of homicide and could be imprisoned for up to 20 years (while a rapist would serve a sentence of up to 10 years for the crime, for example).

The reform would also make it impossible to end the life of a fetus at the beginning of an abortion if it is old enough to be born alive. Doing so is standard practice, supported by the World Health Organization, FIGO and other medical bodies, i.e. to terminate the life of the fetus at the beginning of an abortion, to avoid it being alive at the end in such a case. This is standard medical practice, but it caused protests by anti-abortion activists in Brazil who did not know this. The full statement of FIGO on this subject can be found here in English and here in Spanish.

First lady Rosângela da Silva slammed the anti-abortion law proposal on social media on Friday, saying women and girls who are raped need to be protected, not victimized a second time. President Lula da Silva is known to be opposed to abortion personally, so many people were waiting for him to take a position on this bill. He finally spoke up at the G7 leaders meeting in Italy the next day in a news conference and said:

“I have five kids, eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild. I’m against abortion. However, since abortion is a reality, we need to treat abortion as a public health issue. And I think it’s insanity that someone wants to punish a woman with a [prison] sentence that is longer than [the one for] the criminal who committed the rape.”

No date has yet been set for a vote in the Chamber of Deputies.

STOP PRESS: Axios, 20 June 2024. Just-published article (as we go to press) explaining the anti-abortion bill currently in the federal Congress of Brazil, with an interview with Bia Galli.

SOURCES: US National Public Radio, by Julia Carneiro, 16 June 2024 ; BBC News, by Malu Cursino, 14 June 2024 + PHOTO, by EPA ; NBC News, by the Associated Press, 17 June 2024 ; Red Jurídica CLACAI – Boletín 10, 19 Junio 2024.

Editor’s note: There will be more reports from Brazil in next week’s newsletter.