by Belle Waring on January 7, 2012

One hesitates to use the term, because it is so often misused, but it’s genuinely applicable here. Brazil just passed a law requiring every pregnant woman to register with the State. The alleged reason is to improve pre-natal care, but since no such provisions exist in the law it seems an exercise of raw power.

On December 27, while most Brazilians prepared for the New Year by bleaching their whites and gathering flowers to toss into the Atlantic for the goddess Iemanjá, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, was gathering a group a conservative legislators to stealthily assist in drafting and enacting a CeauÅŸescu-like law requiring all pregnant women to register their pregnancies with the state….
So what is going on? Brazil, the most populous Catholic country in Latin America, finds its politics intrinsically tied to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Dilma, who won a last-minute reprieve from the church’s negative onslaught in the 2010 presidential elections once she disavowed any suggested support for abortion, is to a certain extent beholden to that base. Indeed, Dilma’s cabinet includes an unofficial church representative who was responsible for brokering an agreement between the Vatican and Brazil during President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration. For years Catholic and evangelical parliamentarians have been trying unsuccessfully to establish a registry for pregnant women, with Dilma’s support they’ve finally succeeded.

The obvious actual intention of the law is to prosecute women who have abortions or induce miscarriages. It’s hard to imagine anything more painful than losing a wanted fetus and then being grilled by the police about it, and possibly sent to jail for up to 3 years. Oh wait, except being forced to carry a fetus to term when you are the victim of a rape but there was no successful rape prosecution. That would be worse. Will the cops walk around stopping pregnant women and checking whether they are registered? If anything this seems likely to worsen access to pre-natal care, as women who are undecided about whether to carry to term at first, but end up staying pregnant, decide to give birth at home to avoid getting in legal trouble for failing to register the pregnancy earlier. Or when teenage girls who are ashamed of their pregnancy don’t want to register, and then won’t go see the doctor for any pre-natal care whatsoever. I hope when Brazil’s congress returns to session they will overturn this law. This is just evil and wrong.

UPDATE: Thanks to Witt in comments below, a link to an English-language article explaining the law in greater detail, by Brazilian women’s health activist and human rights advocate Beatriz Galli. (Additionally, those curious may want to know that the woman’s doctor will be compelled to register her with the government when he knows she’s pregnant, which might well be before she does!) Excerpt:

In fact, PM 557 does not guarantee access to health exams, timely diagnosis, providers trained in obstetric emergency care, or immediate transfers to better facilities. So while the legislation guarantees R$50.00 for transportation, it will not even ensure a pregnant woman will find a vacant bed when she is ready to give birth. And worse yet, it won’t minimize her risk of death during the process….
Last but certainly not least, MP 557 violates all women’s right to privacy by creating compulsory registration to control and monitor her reproductive life. In fact, it places the rights of the fetus over the woman, effectively denying her reproductive autonomy. A woman will now be legally “obligated” to have all the children she conceives and she will be monitored by the State for this purpose.