RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – As her 21st birthday approaches, Sara has left the home she shares with her mother on her first plane trip. She did not tell her family the real reason she took out a loan of 5,000 Brazilian reais ($ 1,000).
Two days later and several hundred kilometers away, a 25-year-old woman packed a backpack into her one-bedroom apartment in Sao Paulo and left for the airport with her boyfriend.
The two women were heading to the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, in search of something prohibited in Brazil: an abortion.
“To have a child that I don’t want, and to have no conditions to raise, and to be forced, would be torture,” Sara told The Associated Press at Sao Paulo airport as she prepared to sleeping on a bench near the check-in desk. the day before his connecting flight.
“What has helped me since I found out I was pregnant is that I have a chance. I still have an alternative. It makes me feel more secure,” said the woman, who lives in the Brazilian inner city of Belo Horizonte and requested that only her first name be used due to the stigma associated with abortion in Brazil.
The two women are part of a trend among impoverished Brazilian women who, to dodge risks and legal obstacles in Latin America’s most populous country, have sought abortions elsewhere in the region. They didn’t even need passports to enter Argentina, another Mercosur country.
Their trips came just two weeks before the passage, on December 30, of a landmark law legalizing abortion in Argentina – the largest country in Latin America to do so. This not only highlights how Argentina’s progressive social policy diverges from Brazil’s conservative one, but also the likelihood that more Brazilian women will seek abortions in the neighboring country.
“With the legislative changes in Latin America, women don’t need to go to the United States, don’t need a visa to have an abortion,” said Debora Diniz, Latin American studies researcher at Brown University who has extensively studied abortion. In the region.
“More and more middle and working class women linked to feminist groups now have access to something that is essentially the story of long-time rich women.”
Sara said she couldn’t risk the possibility of buying counterfeit abortion pills or having a dangerous backdoor procedure in Brazil. She feared injury, death or a failed abortion leading to complications. Getting caught could even mean jail.
A protocol from Argentina’s health ministry gave legal leeway for Sara’s abortion on December 14, provided she signed a statement citing the “health risk” of pregnancy. The policy was based on the World Health Organization definition of health: “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not simply the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Yet some doctors still refused abortions, according to Dr Viviana Mazur, who heads the sexual health group of the Argentine Federation of General Medicine. The new law allows abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy.
“The law will give more autonomy and dignity to women,” said Dr Mazur. “So they don’t have to say ‘please’, ask for permission, or for forgiveness.”
Ahead of last week’s vote, Argentinian feminist groups had long campaigned for the legalization of abortion in Pope Francis’ homeland, and they found common cause with President Alberto Fernández, who was elected in 2019 and has presented the bill.
Activists protested outside Congress for weeks. Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who chaired the debate in a legislature where more than 40% of lawmakers are women, announced the passage of the law. A crowd of several thousand outside erupted into cheers and tears.
There was no response from Congress in Brazil, where around 15% of lawmakers are women.
Brazilian law has remained virtually unchanged since 1940, allowing abortions only in cases of rape and danger to the woman’s life. A 2012 Supreme Court ruling also authorized abortions when the fetus has anencephaly. Since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, lawmakers have introduced at least 30 bills to strengthen the laws, according to watchdog Women in Congress.
Backed by conservatives and evangelicals, Bolsonaro said if Congress legalized abortion, he would veto it. After the Argentine bill was passed, Bolsonaro said on Twitter that he would leave the children “subject to being harvested from their mother’s womb with the consent of the state.”
He appointed evangelical pastor Damares Alves, who has said she opposes abortion even when raped, to be his minister for women, families and human rights. After a 10-year-old girl was raped by her uncle and religious protesters besieged the hospital where her abortion was performed in August, Alves said the fetus should have been delivered by Caesarean section.
“We are striving to provide an increasing level of attention and protection to our pregnant women in vulnerable situations,” Alves said in a written response to the AP’s questions. “No one will want to leave the Brazil we are building, let alone kill their children.”
Diniz, the Brown University researcher, conducted a 2016 survey in Brazil that found that one in five respondents had had an abortion before the age of 40. The survey of 2,002 Brazilian women found higher abortion rates among those with less education and lower income.
In 2018, a health ministry official said the government estimated around 1 million induced abortions per year, with unsafe procedures causing more than 250,000 hospitalizations and 200 deaths.
“Abortion is a common experience in a woman’s life. But at the same time, it is a sensitive political issue, and made sensitive by the men in power,” Diniz said.
The Sao Paulo woman who traveled to Argentina for an abortion last month grew up in a Rio de Janeiro slum, or favela, where she has often seen unplanned pregnancies derail women’s lives, devastating them with responsibilities and making their career or social mobility even more difficult. .
“It is difficult to come out of this reality,” she said.
She was able to leave the favela after getting a stable job and studying for a career in the medical field. In doing so, she became “the pride of my parents,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used because she feared professional consequences and because abortion is illegal in Brazil.
Raised in a pious evangelical family, the woman said having an abortion in Brazil meant breaking both her God and national law. Of the two, she believed that God could forgive her, so she looked abroad.
That way, she said, “no one can accuse me of committing a crime.”
The two asked for help from the Brazilian nonprofit Miles for Women’s Lives, founded by screenwriter Juliana Reis and Rebeca Mendes, who became a trailblazer in 2017 when she publicly announced she would be traveling. outside Brazil for an abortion. The group helped the first woman to travel overseas in November 2019, and 59 more had followed by the end of last year. The total includes 16 women who visited Argentina in November and December.
He collects around 4,000 reais ($ 750) per month through crowdfunding and pays the travel expenses of about one-fifth of the women, Reis said. Efforts are focused on providing moral support and helping women navigate unfamiliar countries and connect with clinics abroad.
The group has received some 1,500 requests for assistance, both in Brazil and abroad. Some have asked about neighboring Uruguay without knowing that its law only applies to residents, Reis said. The only other places in Latin America where abortion is legal are Cuba, Guyana, French Guyana, and parts of Mexico.
Now that Argentina has approved the legalization, the group hopes to bring more Brazilian women an affordable, safe and legal option on their doorstep. Reis said the group had 13 women heading to Argentina in January, and she expects travel there will become more common, especially from southern Brazil.
“Our operations have reached an intense level because many people believe that it is no longer tolerable to continue to hide this in the closet and find workarounds,” Reis said. “For me, this is the start of a change.”
After her abortion, Sara said in Buenos Aires that she felt relieved and even considered sharing the experience with her family.
“I know women who have needed clandestine abortions,” she said. “In Brazil – and everywhere – there are women who need this support.”
Pollastri reported from Sao Paulo. Calatrava reported from Buenos Aires. Video journalist Yesica Brumec has contributed from Buenos Aires.