“Isolated”: stigmatized Brazilian women and abortion providers

Many thanks to Beatriz Galli, a Senior  Policy Advisor at Ipas Brasil, and National Rapporteur on the Human Right to Sexual and Reproductive Health of the Dhesca Brazilian Platform and a graduate of our International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program at the University of Toronto, who has kindly provided an English summary of her co-authored Portuguese publication called Isoladas (Isolated) with anonymized photos and women’s secret testimonies on their experience with abortion criminalization and the consequent stigma they face in many dimension of their lives.

Isolated – The stories of eight women criminalized for abortion,
by Evanize Sydow and Beatriz Galli, with photos by João Roberto Ripper.

online here in Portuguese.

This book Isoladas (Isolated) aims to document, through interviews the personal histories of six among almost ten thousand women who underwent abortions in a private family planning clinic in the city of Campo Grande, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil, and of two health professionals who worked there.  The clinic provide sexual and reproductive health care in the last 20 years in the city to women from different social backgrounds including women’s victims of sexual violence who were referred from public hospitals in order to have access to legal abortion care permitted under the law.

One of the key issues documented in this book is the social stigma these women would face if it became known to police and/or the public that they had had illegal abortions at the now-notorious clinic. What this represents to their lives, how they deal with it, and how this has changed the way they live with their families, their partners and their professional environment, are some of the questions that can be reflected in their testimonies to us through the lenses of those who have experienced unsafe abortion and how it has changed their daily lives.

Reaching out to these women and convincing them to speak for the first time about what they have endured was our main challenge. They experienced stigma in a variety of ways. For two years, we researched their stories, arguing that they would be preserved, as well as their privacy respected, since their main fear is that people close to them, such as relatives, friends and colleagues at work would start discriminating against them if they knew about their secret  abortions. They experience fear, anguish and doubts.   They don’t know how the people that they live with would react if they found out.   All of them have children, and are or were married.   All live in Campo Grande, a capital that resembles a small town where everyone knows everything about everybody.  This makes them feel insecure and afraid of being recognized, increasing their suffering.

The book also contains interviews with two health professionals from the clinic, who had been prosecuted and condemned to one year and three months and four years of incarceration respectively.  In their testimonies, they revealed that their public exposure by the police raid broadcasted by the local TV made them socially isolated, fearing going out for several months, afraid of people’s reactions in the street. At the time of these interviews, neither had been able to find another job in the city.

Related Resources:

Beatriz Galli, “Negative Impacts of Abortion Criminalization in Brazil: Systematic Denial of Women’s Reproductive Autonomy and Human Rights,” University of Miami Law Review [Vol. 65:969], 2001.  Online here.

Effects of abortion criminalization in Brazil: lack of access, lack of good quality of health care and increased risk of morbidity and maternal mortality. 8-page contribution to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights thematic study regarding  Resolution 11/8 on Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights,  online here.

Portuguese resources:

Procesos judiciais envolvendo abortamento: Negação dos Direitos Reprodutivos das Mulheres em Mato Grosso do Sul, [Legal proceedings involving abortion:  Denial of Reproductive Rights in Mato Grosso do Sul] Ipas Brasil, 2008, Portuguese, online here.

Beatriz  Galli and Evanize Sydow, Autonomia reprodutiva: relatos de mulheres sobre aborto e estigma em Mato Grosso do Sul [Reproductive Autonomy: women’s testimonies in Mato Grosso do Sul, Ipas Brasil 2010, Portuguese, online here.

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