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Decriminalization of Abortion Within Reach: Build an Independent Mass Movement to Guarantee Victory!

Our task is to turn this into a mass struggle, guiding a movement built from the bottom up, building a movement independent of the government and trusting in the potential of the working class.

Feministas Anti-Racistas Socialistas -- Brazil

This morning, the Supreme Court began voting to remove abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy from the Penal Code. We are close to the 28th September, International Safe Abortion Day and the Latin American day of struggle for the legalisation of abortion. We have never been so close to changing part of the reality of millions of Brazilian women and people who can conceive!

Last week, as a result of the struggle led by feminist movements, Mexico’s Supreme Court approved the decriminalisation of abortion. This is just one of a number of experiences around the world of victorious struggles to guarantee and expand the reproductive rights of women and pregnant people. There have also been setbacks, such as in the United States, revealing a social polarisation that, together with the attack on the rights of trans people, reveals a dispute over bodily autonomy within the capitalist system.

Although it is necessary to consider the particularities of Brazil, the conservatism of the elites and politicians, this is not a debate detached from the global growth of the far right, nor the feminist uprisings in Latin America. There are achievements and setbacks in the same period that shape the current situation of consciousness in what we call the Age of Disorder.

The struggle in defence for the right to abortion in different countries shows that that vacuums don’t exist in consciousness, that if we don’t struggle to defend our rights then they will be lost and that this struggle will not be completely won within capitalism. That’s why it’s necessary to anticipate events and organise collectively, preparing our ranks to intervene in the mobilisations and to advance in our gains, not allowing steps backwards in what we’ve already achieved.

The Brazilian context

Brazil’s figures are alarming compared to other countries. The WHO estimates that almost 1 million illegal abortions are carried out every year in Brazil. This means that legalisation here would directly affect those who profit from the ban. Access to high-end clandestine clinics or even travelling to other countries to have a safe abortion can only be accessed by the upper class. Access to pills is through illegal trafficking and means more risks. For this reason, it is the very illegality of the practice that causes so many deaths and affects the poorest.

Abortion is a reality. The latest National Abortion Survey (2021), published earlier this year, found that 1 in 7 women under the age of 40 have had an abortion at least once, and 52 per cent were under the age of 19 when they did so. According to the survey, the proportion is higher among indigenous and black women.

In other words, although the moral and religious debate prevails when it comes to terminating pregnancies, criminalisation and prohibition is above all a debate about class, determining which women can carry out the procedure safely and with dignity, and which women carry out the procedure in a traumatic, unsafe way, in some cases being imprisoned or killed.

Brazil is considered one of the most restricted countries for the acquisition of Misoprostol, recommended by the WHO as safe up to 12 weeks of gestation. Access to this drug is very difficult even for doctors. In addition, the use of Mifepristone is recommended, but hardly ever arrives in the country. The combination of the two is indicated as a safe, effective method that reduces side effects and the need to go to hospital to finish the procedure. As well as being much less aggressive, the possibility of administering it at home guarantees greater autonomy, less exposure and makes for a less traumatic procedure.

Neither arrested, neither dead

The handcuffs were put on while she was bleeding on the hospital bed. It was like that for three days: locked up and bleeding. Her condition was serious when the military police entered the hospital and ordered her arrest. It was the doctor himself who blew the whistle when he suspected that the patient had had an abortion at home. A young, black, poor, Brazilian woman who tried to terminate her pregnancy was rushed to the Unified Health System (SUS) after suffering a haemorrhage. The request was for help, but the patient had her privacy violated by the professional who was supposed to protect her.” This is a real case that took place in Minas Gerais in 2020

This tragic example shows that criminalisation has been used to imprison and prosecute poor, indigenous and black people. In addition, the stigma of prohibition and poor health care has led many to their deaths. The same research shows that there has been an increase in prosecutions of people suspected of causing abortions. The data showed that since 2022, the number of lawsuits filed against women who have had abortions has been on the rise, with an average of more than one such case per day. In 2021 there were 136 cases, in 2022 there were 464 cases, an increase of 340%, three times more. The monthly average in 2021 was 11.3 cases; in 2022 — 38.6; and this year it’s already at 41.6, just from January to May.

For every five women who have an illegal abortion, two are taken to hospital. The 151,000 hospitalisations for post-abortion curettage represent 90% of the cases that reached hospital units, and in one year resulted in 50 deaths. In 2021, 151,000 women were hospitalised in Brazil for abortions (spontaneous, induced, incomplete or legal) and taken for a uterine curettage, a procedure that has been considered outdated for at least ten years worldwide and has been strongly discouraged by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 2012.

ADPF 442 — a chance to influence the fight

The Arguição de Descumprimento de Preceito Fundamental (ADPF) is a legal recourse to change the penal code. The text of ADPF 442 was drawn up by PSOL in conjunction with the ANIS institute, whose spokesperson, Debora Diniz, is well known and has been threatened and persecuted by Bolsonaro supporters. It contains arguments that question the contradictions in the conditions that penalise those who perform and facilitate abortion, and therefore defends the discrimination of abortion. ADPF 442 seeks to decriminalise voluntary abortion up to the third month.

This ADPF was presented to the Supreme Court in 2017, and in 2018 it was put up for discussion. We were in Brasilia that year with PSOL and CSP Conlutas. There, we organised a demo in favour of its approval, together with the National Campaign/Movement Nem Presa Nem Morta. Since then, ADPF 442 has been under the tutelage of Justice Minister Rosa Weber, who cast her vote this morning. As a result, the process is open and the next vote could take place at any time, happening next week or it could take until 2025. We still can’t fully assess the impact of this. But with all the arguments we already have, we know that decriminalisation is a big step and that the movement is pressuring to have the votes cast as quickly as possible. .

Still the full vote could take a long time, but it’s very important that this minister puts it on the agenda, since she’s in favour of it. As a result, we are seeing a process of struggles for the decriminalisation of abortion that could lead to bigger struggles if it follows the green wave in Latin America. The difference is that it will be an advance and not just about stopping a setback threatened by the conservatives: a struggle won is an advanced political awareness for our class.

The Supreme Court is as unjust as the system that sustains it

We have no illusions in bourgeois justice and especially in this sector, which in recent years has been singled out by the vanguard of the failed struggle as “the saviours of the fatherland”. We must know how to recognise the opportunity to fight, without forgetting that pressure on the streets is the best guarantee of the response we want. The indigenous movement’s victory in court over the denial of the attack on land demarcations was due exclusively to the movement’s incessant mobilisations over the last almost three years. This same supreme court dances to the tune of the interests of those at the top, remembering that in 2018 they condemned Lula so that he could not be a candidate and in 2021 they cleared Lula so that he could be a candidate again. This same Supreme Court has blood on its hands and we don’t trust it for the future of the millions of women and people who can get pregnant. Let’s fight! We must demand the approval of ADPF442 along with the legalisation of abortion!

We’re in favour of a struggle that reaches more people each time. Our task is to turn this into a mass struggle, guiding a movement built from the bottom up, building a movement independent of the government and trusting in the potential of the working class.

Legal or decriminalised abortion? Traps for the movement

We have always raised the demand for the legalisation of abortion, we want legal and safe abortion within the public health service or, as the Argentinian women rightly shouted, “legal abortion, in hospital”. We will fight for a truly secular state. For the closure of all cases that criminalise people who have had abortions. For the investigation and punishment of medical staff who reported patients who had abortions. For quality healthcare that is 100 per cent public, free and universal. Sex education in schools, including gender diversity. Access to free contraceptives. Free access to abortion pills with safe knowledge of their use, produced by the state and free from the pharmaceutical industry. We will not back down on any slogan. We also know the way: collective organisation and struggle. We can use the institutions in our favour when possible, as is the case with ADPF 442, but the movement needs to have independence and autonomy and not be subordinated to the institutional struggle.

This is a point of difference with other sectors, which even if they have an interest in winning the right to abortion, subordinate the struggle to institutionality and could put the brakes on and retreat from the struggle if it threatens the government and its alliance with the centrist and right-wing parties. This, in pursuit of the false idea of governability and stability. We are part of the wing that will intervene to open up the potential for struggle that is now opening up. No step backwards! Let Brazil join the green wave that has won more rights in Latin America!

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