São Paulo protest against Speaker Cunha, bill tightening abortion laws

SÃO PAULO — Protesters took to the streets on Friday to voice their opposition to proposed legislation that would toughen Brazil’s already strict laws on abortion, extending criminal proceedings those who assist, or provide information leading to, the termination of a pregnancy.

The bill, PL 5069/2013, which is sponsored by conservative deputy and embattled speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, was approved by a parliamentary commission on 21 October, and can now go to a vote by lawmakers.

Currently, abortion is legal only in a small number of specific circumstances, including if the pregnancy is the result of a rape, if the mother’s life is in danger, and if the foetus is confirmed to have anencephaly.

As the law stands, only the two people involved in the abortion – the woman herself and the doctor performing the procedure – can be held accountable.

The new bill would extend criminal proceedings to those health professionals who assist or inform women about abortive procedures, with a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Pro-choice activists say rape victims will be forced to provide medical evidence of the assault — currently the victim’s word is sufficient — and will lose the right to the morning-after pill and further information about their medical rights.

Activists say this would mean the morning-after pill could also be considered “abortive” and therefore be restricted.

Cunha, an evangelical lawmaker from Rio de Janeiro, is fighting for his political life after investigators in Switzerland found evidence of four bank accounts linked to the politician.

He is also in a political stalemate with President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing ongoing threats of impeachment – and Cunha, as speaker of the lower house of Congress, has the power to decide whether or not impeachment proceedings can be triggered.

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