Brazilian Legislature Wants to Increase Penalties for Abortion in Response to Zika

With the Zika virus spreading through Latin America, the UN and other organizations have called on impacted countries to loosen their bans and heavy restrictions on abortion. Since the virus can cause severe birth defects in children, people are starting to realize the importance of allowing women to make the reproductive choices that are right for them. This is particularly pressing for women and families who, if forced to carry through a pregnancy, would not be able to adequately care for a child born with microcephaly. Indeed, the problem has gotten so bad that women with Zika have taken to pleading for abortion pills online, since they’re unable to receive the care they need in their countries.


Realizing the enormous health crisis facing Brazilian women and families, anti-abortion forces in Brazil are pouring all their resources into assisting parents who ultimately “choose life” for afflicted fetuses.

No, wait, scratch that.

They’re actually focused on important stuff like figuring out how to increase punishments for women and doctors who abort.

In Brazil, where doctors have seen 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly in the past four months, abortion is already illegal — aside from rare cases of rape, anencephaly (a more extreme version of microcephaly, where a baby often dies in infancy), or when the mother’s life is in danger. Currently, if a woman is found to have had an abortion, she is sentenced to no more than three years in prison. But under this new legislation, if a court found the case to be based on microcephaly, a woman can spend up to four-and-a-half years behind bars. And for doctors that administer the abortion? They could face a 15 year sentence.

Those backing this bill say that the Zika virus has unfairly loosened the country’s acceptance of abortion, and feminist groups are to blame.

“With the crisis that has hit our country, a feminist movement has tried to take advantage to change our abortion laws,” said the bill’s author, Anderson Ferreira, an evangelical member of Brazil’s National Congress who represents the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. “This movement needs to be confronted. Everyone needs to realize the gravity of the crime that is abortion and that it is not acceptable.”

Ferreira’s not wrong about feminists — I have it on good authority, from America’s Christian conservatives, that feminists are to blame for pretty much everything, so why not a health crisis prompted by a mosquito-borne virus? But in all seriousness, was this really the best they could do — imprisoning physicians for caring for their patients and imprisoning women for making a reproductive choice that was right for them amid a health crisis of staggering proportions?

It’s appalling that this, rather than actually helping the people of Brazil, is a priority for the conservative lawmakers. Lawmakers who seem to have largely similar goals to conservative lawmakers in the United States:

The 2014 elections returned a conservative congress with many evangelicals, who make up a fifth of Brazil’s population. Representatives have also proposed restricting access to abortion in cases of rape; loosening gun control laws; and specifically defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Because, you know, priorities. Guns? Check. Preventing gay people from marrying? Check. Forcing pregnant rape victims to bear their rapists’ kids? Check. Forcing women with Zika to carry through a pregnancy? Check.

Actually help their constituents?

Come on, now. Jesus is happy. That’s good enough.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Rachel Ford

Rachel Ford is a programmer, and since 8:00 to 5:00 doesn't provide enough opportunity to bask in screen glare, she writes in her spare time. She was raised a very fundamentalist Christian, but eventually "saw the light." Rachel's personal blog is Rachel's Hobbit Hole, where she discusses everything from Tolkien to state politics.