To what extent do our rights as human beings go? To what extent is our body ours and only ours?
On October 21st, the law project 5069/13 was approved by the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil. Created by the congressman Eduardo Cunha, this new law project aims to bring changes to the treatments provided to rape victims. It proposes the modification of the legal concept of sexual violence from “Any kind of non-consensual sexual activity” to “Any kind of non-consensual sexual activity that results in physical and psychological damage”. The law project also states that women will only be able to have access to complete treatment (which today consists of providing emergency contraception (birth control), HIV medicines, and other medication to avoid STDs) after they report the violence to the authorities. In addition, sharing information about abortion will be considered explicitly illegal, and being permitted access to an abortion will require the rape victim to report to the police and undergo a forensic examination.
People who support the project argue that it will provide help and treatment to women with more accuracy, and it will prevent women from lying about rape in order to get a safe abortion. However, those who are against the project argue that the number of women who lie about getting raped is extremely low compared to the total number of rape incidents. Plus, if women are lying just to get a safe abortion, this says more about the country’s current abortion laws and less about the women in question –mostly poor women– that need an abortion and are simply trying to find a safe way to do it. For most of these women, their only other alternative is to resort to illegal abortion clinics where many of them end up passing away. They also argue that many police stations and IMLs (forensic medical centers) cannot meet the current demand, and some cities do not even have IMLs, which will make it much more difficult for the victims to get help. This is especially concerning when considering many of the victims are abused in their own home.
In addition, rape victims can even have their treatment denied for not showing physical signs of harm from the crime committed. According to the Pérola Byington Hospital, an authority on women’s health and the treatment of rape victims, victims only have evident physical damage in approximately 11% of all rape cases. Also, the current law already makes it hard for women to get a legal abortion; there are many bureaucratic processes beforehand, and the abortion is never provided on the first treatment (that’s aimed to avoid the pregnancy in the first place). Abortions are also limited to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, since that is when the nervous system is developing (making consciousness possible), and it is the time when making an abortion can start getting dangerous for the woman herself.
After the first approving of this law project, many women and feminist collectives organized protests all around the country, demanding a legislation and politics that respects and empowers the Brazilian women, and that provides safety and freedom for them and their bodies.
Applying the ideas of this law project to our society today, it is possible to bring an interesting and important discussion about social coercion and the lengths to which it can go. The coercive and manipulative nature of rape culture reveals how women’s bodies can belong to everyone but themselves, which can make women feel guilty for the violence they go through. In every case of rape, every time a woman is manipulated into having sex with a man or convinced into having sex without protection, social coercion is present. Coercion is present when women are in abusive relationships they cannot get out of, when a woman cannot free herself from compulsory heterosexuality, and when compulsory maternity and the fear of dying or being judged is also there.
Journalist’s opinion: I believe this law project represents a regression on the rights of Brazilian women. This is not only about abortion – that’s a whole other topic we could talk about –, this is about the safety of women, and avoiding pregnancy and STDs due to rape. This is about the life of women, especially poor women who are already dying at illegal clinics – and this will continue even more if this law project is definitively approved. I believe that we should realize that beliefs are beliefs – and I have mine too – but they can’t get in the way of people’s rights. While having an opinion on the legalization and regulation (that is, setting a limit for the access to abortion, like 12 weeks) of abortion is important, people should remember that the law project 5069/13 is about much more than just abortion: it’s about treatment access for rape victims, and their safety.