Brazilian women who are the victims of sexual or gender violence will now get protection from the state after Congress passed a new law that was signed Thursday by President Dilma Rousseff.
Various religious leaders had asked Rousseff in private meetings to change certain clauses in the legislation because they considered that the measure would open a door to an eventual legalization of abortion. One of the aspects of the new law obligates public health workers to inform a rape victim her right to abort if she becomes pregnant.
Specifically, the law states that a woman will have access to the so-called morning-after pill. But religious groups argued this clause would entice women who are not rape victims to obtain an abortion at the state’s expense under the guise that they were sexually assaulted.
Cultural Minister Marta Suplicy, who for more than 20 years has been leading the fight for more equal rights for women, explained that the law’s aim was only to put into practice a “public policy for the protection of women” and doesn’t try to put the government at odds with religious leaders.
But Ives Sandra Martins, a Catholic Church lawyer, said the law is ambiguous. “Now any woman who wants to have an abortion can go to the public hospital and say: ‘I was raped,’ and the doctors will be obligated to perform an abortion or face the possibilities of being sanctioned,” he said.
Up until the last moment, the Brazilian press speculated that President Rousseff would use her right to veto parts of the bill mainly because she had pledged to religious leaders that she would not legalize abortion during her presidential campaign.
She did, however, say the issue was one for Congress to decide and promised she would not step in.
Health Minister Alexandre Padilha said that with the new law, Congress has now offered rape victims “humanitarian and respectful treatment.”