As Brazil's charismatic President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva makes a triumphant exit, having fostered a fast-growing economy that lifted millions out of poverty and pleased financial markets, his country seems more than ever to embody the word "progress" that is emblazoned across its national flag. But as the Oct. 31 run-off election to choose his successor approaches, the focus is shifting to one aspect of Brazilian society where many say there has been little progress: Abortion is still illegal, despite one in five Brazilian women undergoing the procedure in their lifetimes.
With religious-right votes up for grabs in the upcoming poll, the two remaining candidates and the leading party are backing down from earlier abortion-rights endorsements, leading abortion-rights advocates to say that votes are being traded for women's health. Two-thirds of Brazil's 191 million people are Roman Catholics, making it the world's largest Catholic nation. But the number of those professing evangelical beliefs, some 17 percent of the population, is growing fast.
The frenzy to collect more of those votes is causing Lula's left-wing Workers Party to mull whether to back off its commitment to see abortion rights debated in Congress, and the party's candidate, Dilma Rousseff, heavily favored to win, is distancing herself from abortion-rights comments she made before becoming a candidate.
"It will be really ugly if the Workers Party pulls abortion rights from its agenda," said Regina Soares, a spokeswoman for the abortion-rights group Catholics for the Right to Decide. "[Abortion] is a problem of a huge size, which has same importance as unemployment and homelessness," she said. Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in the case of rape or if the mother's life is in danger. Yet one in five Brazilian women under age 40 has had an abortion, the vast majority illegally. Half of those women end up in the hospital as the result of complications, said Marcelo Medeiros, an economist and sociologist who coordinated a 2009 government-funded abortion study. The abortion question shifted to the fore after Sunday's first-round presidential elections, in which Rousseff was expected to sail easily past the 50 percent mark that would have made a second round unnecessary. But she received 46.8 percent, forcing a runoff with centrist challenger Jose Serra at the end of the month. Support for the 62-year- old former guerrilla, Lula's chosen successor, eroded in part because the religious right aired ads portraying Rousseff as pro-abortion-rights, observers said. To shore up votes, the Workers Party is considering whether to yank its promise to see abortion rights debated in Congress. In his more recent position as Brazil's health minister, Serra, along with the Workers Party, has advocated for a debate on abortion in Congress in the name of public health. But during his campaign, Serra declared himself anti-abortion. Observers are split on whether the issue could prevent a Rousseff win. Alberto Almeida, director of market research group Instituto Analise, said voters don't see the difference between the abortion stances of Serra and Rousseff. "Abortion won't have a big role in the election because nobody has a clear position on abortion," Almeida said. But a Workers Party senator from Parana state said some of her party members could end up promoting legalized abortion, a position that could "cost the presidency," said Gleisi Hoffman, according to a Folha report. "While most Brazilians support abortion in special cases, the rest is "a gray area," Medeiros said.
KELLER, Karen. Abortion Becomes Issue in Brazil's Presidential Runoff. Disponível em: http://www.aolnews.com/world/article/abortion-becomes-an- issue-in-brazils-presidential-runoff/19665625. Acesso em: 4 nov. 2010.