Analysis Human Rights

Does She Really Support Reproductive Rights? Mixed Messages from Brazil’s First Female President

Beatriz Galli

Will Rousseff and Brazil’s other leaders summon up the will to truly stand up for women’s rights?  Will they tackle one of the true solutions to high maternal mortality: decriminalization of abortion and measures that could effectively reduce deaths related to unsafe abortions?

At the recent Rio+20 summit, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff  joined with other women heads of state in signing a “call to action” in support of the right of women to sexual and reproductive health. It was a true “photo-op” moment generating plenty of international headlines for Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, and the other high-profile leaders.

But for those of us actively working for women’s reproductive health rights in Brazil, it was more of an “Oh, really?” moment.

Because we could see what probably was coming. Despite her backing of the call to action, Rousseff ended up signing onto the final document produced at Rio+20 — a compromise plan that made no mention at all of women’s reproductive rights and that has since been roundly criticized for selling out not only women but Mother Earth herself.

Only a few months ago, Rousseff used her presidential power to enact a controversial measure establishing a national pregnancy registry in Brazil. Far from increasing women’s reproductive rights, the registry posed a genuine threat to those rights.

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Fortunately, in response to an intense campaign by feminist and reproductive rights advocates, Brazil’s national lawmakers decided to let the registry law die for lack of congressional approval, thereby showing a true commitment to women’s human rights.

The controversial law, Provisional Measure 557, had been enacted by Rousseff last December, when the country was focused more on the holidays than on politics. Provisionary measures such as PM 557 are a way for Brazilian presidents to enact laws without congressional authorization and are intended for urgent matters.

On the surface, PM 557 did seem to address an undeniably urgent matter, that of Brazil’s high maternal mortality rate. It required all pregnant women to register their pregnancies with the state, ostensibly to ensure better access to quality maternal care.

But the reality would have been far more complicated. A national registry of pregnant women — which one critic rightly termed “Kafkaesque” — would have allowed the government to monitor and control women’s reproductive choices. Even after a provision on the rights of the unborn had been withdrawn, the legislation continued to disregard women’s human rights, such as the right to privacy and confidentiality of health information. It still raised many concerns. Once a woman registered her pregnancy, would she have been legally obligated to have the child? What about pregnancies ending in miscarriage or an abortion? Would women have faced legal consequences? If the pregnancy endangered a woman’s life or was the result of rape, would women get information on where to get legally permitted abortions?

Brazilian law permits abortion, but only in cases of rape or if the woman’s life is at risk. In all likelihood, the registry would have led to a state system of surveillance and control of women’s reproductive lives, with the potential added effect of increasing the persecution of women and criminalization of abortion.

Provisional measures in Brazil must be debated and approved by Congress to remain in effect; otherwise, they expire by a set date. In the case of PM 557, the deadline was May 31. That gave feminist, reproductive rights and human rights activists several months to sound the alarm — and we did.

In addition to meeting with members of Congress, advocates met with members of national health councils and other policymakers. Organizations joining forces to protest the registry law included Ipas, CFEMEA, AMB, Rede Feminista de Saude, Articulacão Nacional de Muheres Negras, Sexuality Policy Watch/ABIA, and the Brazilian Federation of OB/GYNs, Febrasgo. We also mounted an aggressive campaign through social media outlets; mainstream media paid almost no attention to the issue until defeat of the registry seemed certain.

Now that this outrageous measure has been put to rest, women in Brazil will be spared the humiliating obligation of standing in line to register a pregnancy. But important challenges remain, and the disappointing outcome of Rio+20 puts them into stark relief. Will Rousseff and Brazil’s other leaders summon up the will to truly stand up for women’s rights?  Will they tackle one of the true solutions to high maternal mortality: decriminalization of abortion and measures that could effectively reduce deaths related to unsafe abortions? Or will they spend time on measures such as the proposed “fetal rights” bill?

Here’s hoping they will learn a lesson from the defeat of PM 557:  laws affecting women’s reproductive health should be approached with a human rights perspective, with due participation from women themselves and with transparency in the political process.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

News Politics

Sen. Tim Kaine Focuses on Reproductive Rights Amid Clinton’s Looming Decision on Vice President

Ally Boguhn

Last week, the senator and former Virginia governor argued in favor of giving Planned Parenthood access to funding in order to fight Zika. "The uniform focus for members of Congress should be, 'Let's solve the problem,'" Kaine reportedly said at a meeting in Richmond, according to Roll Call.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) appears to be rebranding himself as a more staunch pro-choice advocate after news that the senator was one of at least three potential candidates being vetted by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign to join her presidential ticket.

Last week, the senator and former Virginia governor argued in favor of giving Planned Parenthood access to funding in order to fight the Zika virus. “The uniform focus for members of Congress should be, ‘Let’s solve the problem,'” Kaine reportedly said at a meeting in Richmond, according to Roll Call. “That is [the] challenge right now between the Senate and House.”

Kaine went on to add that “Planned Parenthood is a primary health provider. This is really at the core of dealing with the population that has been most at risk of Zika,” he continued.

As Laura Bassett and Ryan Grim reported for the Huffington Post Tuesday, “now that Clinton … is vetting him for vice president, Kaine needs to bring his record more in line with hers” when it comes to reproductive rights. While on the campaign trail this election cycle, Clinton has repeatedly spoken out against restrictions on abortion access and funding—though she has stated that she still supports some restrictions, such as a ban on later abortions, as long as they have exceptions.

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In what is seemingly an effort to address the issue, as Bassett and Grim suggested, Kaine signed on last week as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services. As previously reported by Rewire, the measure would effectively stop “TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) laws, forced ultrasounds, waiting periods, or restrictions on medication abortion.” TRAP laws have led to unprecedented barriers in access to abortion care.

Just one day before endorsing the legislation, Kaine issued a statement explicitly expressing his support for abortion rights after the Supreme Court struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law HB 2.

“I applaud the Supreme Court for seeing the Texas law for what it is—an attempt to effectively ban abortion and undermine a woman’s right to make her own health care choices,” said Kaine in the press release. “This ruling is a major win for women and families across the country, as well as the fight to expand reproductive freedom for all.”

The Virginia senator went on to use the opportunity to frame himself as a defender of those rights during his tenure as governor of his state. “The Texas law is quite similar to arbitrary and unnecessary rules that were imposed on Virginia women after I left office as Governor,” said Kaine. “I’m proud that we were able to successfully fight off such ‘TRAP’ regulations during my time in state office. I have always believed these sort of rules are an unwarranted effort to deprive women of their constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.”

Kaine also spoke out during his run for the Senate in 2012 when then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed a law requiring those who seek abortions to undergo an ultrasound prior to receiving care, calling the law “bad for Virginia’s image, bad for Virginia’s businesses and bad for Virginia’s women.”

Kaine’s record on abortion has of late been a hot topic among those speculating he could be a contender for vice president on the Clinton ticket. While Kaine’s website says that he “support[s] the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions” and that he opposes efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the senator recently spoke out about his personal opposition to abortion.

When host Chuck Todd asked Kaine during a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press about Kaine previously being “classified as a pro-life Democrat” while lieutenant governor of Virginia, Kaine described himself as a “traditional Catholic” who is “opposed to abortion.”

Kaine went on to affirm that he nonetheless still believed that the government should not intrude on the matter. “I deeply believe, and not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm,” Kaine continued. “They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As the Hill noted in a profile on Kaine’s abortion stance, as a senator Kaine has “a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood’s scorecard, and has consistently voted against measures like defunding Planned Parenthood and a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.”

While running for governor of Virginia in 2005, however, Kaine promised that if elected he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

After taking office, Kaine supported some existing restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which in 2008 he claimed gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute.

In 2009 he also signed a measure that allowed the state to create “Choose Life” license plates and give a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network, though such organizations routinely lie to women to persuade them not to have an abortion.