10-year-old rape victim reignites abortion debate in Brazil

and . Aug 17, 2020
abortion laws in brazil Photo: Marcello Jr/ABr/Archive

Abortion is only legal in Brazil in very specific circumstances. Women can only legally terminate a pregnancy in four cases: rape, incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, or — since 2012 — in cases of anencephaly, a fatal condition in which infants are born without parts of the brain or skull. Despite those restrictions, an estimated 500,000 abortions happen every year in the country, according to a 2019 estimate. And one case of legal abortion is sparking a heated debate among pro-choice and anti-abortion groups.

</p> <p>A 10-year-old girl from Vitória — the capital city of the southeastern state of Espírito Santo — had to go to court to be given the right to terminate a pregnancy that was the result of sexual abuse by her 33-year-old uncle. Despite obtaining legal approval, the medical staff at her Vitória hospital refused to carry out the surgery, claiming that current legislation does not permit second-trimester abortions. The 10-year-old was approximately 22 weeks pregnant.</p> <p>A seemingly unambiguous case then became a nasty and public judicial struggle.&nbsp;</p> <p>The child&#8217;s family had to take her to Recife — a city 1,800 kilometres from her home — in order to perform the procedure on Monday. As the legal comings and goings had already made it to the national media, far-right religious groups gathered outside the abortion clinic, calling the 10-year-old child a &#8220;murderer,&#8221; in the hopes of changing her mind.</p> <h2>The case</h2> <p>Upon becoming aware of the case, Human Rights Minister Damares Alves — an Evangelical preacher who is uncompromisingly against the right to legal abortion — sperheaded an opinion campaign to dissuade the girl from terminating her pregnancy. On social media, she gave publicity to the case, lamenting the judicial decision. &#8220;An abortion at this point may jeopardize the mother&#8217;s life or leave her with permanent damage, such as a perforated uterus,&#8221; wrote Ms. Alves, contradicting Health Ministry regulations.</p> <p>Meanwhile, far-right religious extremist groups rallied to protest the abortion, led by activist Sara Giromini, best known by her <em>nom de guerre</em> Sara Winter. On social media, Ms. Winter — who was previously employed by Damares Alves&#8217; Human Rights Ministry — revealed the location of the hospital where the procedure was to take place, as well as the identity of the 10-year-old girl in question. She urged her followers to gather outside the medical facility, forming a human barricade to block doctors&#8217; entry.&nbsp;</p> <p>On Monday afternoon, a court in Espirito Santo ordered Facebook, Twitter, and Google to remove Ms. Winter&#8217;s social media posts that exposed the child&#8217;s identity.</p> <p>Ms. Winter spent time in jail in June for taking her role in organizing anti-democratic protests in Brasilia that called for the closure of the Supreme Court and Congress.</p> <h2>Legal abortion remains a hot-button issue in Latin America</h2> <p>A <a href="">2019 study</a> published by medical journal The Lancet shows that Latin America &#8220;has the most punitive laws for illegal abortion and yet the <a href=";dbid=4&amp;doi=10.1016/S2468-2667(19)30204-X&amp;key=10.1016%2FS0140-6736%2816%2930380-4&amp;cf=fulltext&amp;site=lancet-site">highest estimated frequency</a> of abortions in the world: 44 per 1,000 women compared with lowest frequency of 17 per 1,000 women in the U.S. and Canada.&#8221; And, according to a a report by the Guttmacher Institute, 95 percent of abortions in Latin America are unsafe — leading to nearly 1 million hospitalizations each year, and some of the highest death rates in world.</p> <p>Except for Cuba, Uruguay, and Puerto Rico — where abortions are allowed in all cases within a gestational limit — most Latin American countries only permit women to interrupt pregnancies in restricted scenarios, usually rape and to preserve the mother&#8217;s health.</p> <p>But having the right to a legal abortion does not necessarily mean being able to have one. Last year, a case in the Argentinian province of Jujuy shocked the country — after a 12-year-old girl spent weeks trying to terminate a pregnancy after being raped by a 65-year-old neighbor. After an intense legal battle, courts ordered termination <a href="">via C-section</a>. “It was not a legal termination of the pregnancy, it was torture,” <a href="">said</a> the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion in Jujuy.</p> <p>And just a day after the Brazilian case, a similar episode came to light in Peru. According to news website Wakya Peru, on May 27, a 12-year-old girl was raped in the Añaycancha region and became pregnant as a result. While Peru allows abortion in these cases — especially when the victim is a minor — the girl’s family was <a href="">denied the request</a> for the procedure. The girl eventually suffered a miscarriage.&nbsp;</p> <p>A 19-year-old man accused of the rape said the girl was his partner. Despite being contradicted by the victim&#8217;s medical examinations and testimony, the judge accepted the accused&#8217;s version of events and denied the right to abort the pregnancy.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Brazil: debates in Congress and the Supreme Court</h2> <p>According to the Brazilian Public Security Annual Report, there are on average 180 rapes a day in Brazil. Four girls aged no more than 13 are abused every hour in the country — mostly by family members or people they already know. </p> <p>Still, Evangelical groups in Congress are trying to toughen up abortion laws in the country, hoping to <a href="">outlaw abortions even in cases of rape</a>. A bill to this effect passed a special congressional committee after an 18-1 vote, with the sole objection coming from the only female member of the panel.&nbsp;</p> <p>The proposal had been shelved in the previous legislature, but was resumed at the request of Senator Eduardo Girão, from the northeastern state of Ceará. &#8220;Allowing abortions is a crime. […] We can&#8217;t allow such an atrocity to happen,&#8221; he said on Twitter.&nbsp;</p> <p>Another proposal, authored by Senator Flávio Arns, would outlaw abortions in cases of anencephaly, a right approved by the Supreme Court as recently as 2012.

Read the full story NOW!

Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at