Brazilian women protest over government plans to further restrict access to abortion

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By Mark Armstrong
Brazilian women speak out on plan to further restrict abortion
Brazilian women speak out on plan to further restrict abortion

Over the past few months thousands of women have been protesting in Brazil against government proposals to further restrict abortion.

Terminating a pregnancy is illegal in the country unless the mother's life is at risk, she's been raped, or the foetus has certain brain abnormalities.

It is a hard subject for Brazilian women to talk about, but some, like Raissa Arruda, a mother who has had an abortion,  have decided it is time to speak out.

"I've lost the shame of speaking out," said Raissa. "I think we need to speak, so we can decriminalise abortion. We must end this criminalisation of women. It is so difficult to have to go through having an illegal abortion and keeping it a secret."

Shirely Lopes, a mother and activist, also feels strongly:

"If it is just to have a baby for the sake of it it then it's not a decision made from love. It is a decision that comes from suffering on the part of the woman."

The activists do have some supporters in congress. One of them is Erika Kokay from the Workers' Party. She is passionately against the new plans:

"Women's lives matter! We can't legislate in favour of rape, which would mean the obligation to continue a pregnancy resulting from rape." As well as taking to the streets over 34,000 women have signed a petition to congress. It doesn't sound that many, but in a country where is abortion is illegal, it's a significant number.

An estimated 400,000 to 800,000 women have an abortion each year in Brazil, the vast majority of them illegal.

According to the Health Ministry, more than 200 women died in 2015 after undergoing abortions. If caught, a woman can be sentenced to up to three years imprisonment and the performer of the procedure up to four, though prosecutions are rare.

Now more than 170 women - including prominent actresses, directors and academics - have signed a manifesto declaring publicly that they had abortions.