01.10.12

Brazil's Compulsory Pregnancy Registration Violates Women's Privacy

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On Dec. 27, Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff enacted legislation, Provisional Measure (PM 557), that will require all pregnancies to be registered with the state, violating a woman’s right to privacy. Although Rousseff argues that PM 557 will help improve Brazil’s maternal mortality rates, this seems to be little more than an attempt to control and monitor women’s reproductive choices and identify women who are suspected of having an abortion, which is legal in Brazil only if a woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape.  Under the law, health care providers will be required to report all pregnancies — including women’s names to the National System of Registration, Vigilance and Monitoring Women’s Care during Pregnancy and Post Childbirth for the Prevention of Maternal Mortality.

Certainly, surveillance is an accepted part of public health law and can be necessary to track, monitor and isolate communicable diseases. But, pregnancy is not a communicable disease and pregnant women do not pose a health threat. Indeed, there is little in this law that will help pregnant women. Although it authorizes the federal government to provide transportation assistance for registered pregnant women to get to pre-natal and delivery care, the amount available – about US$27 might not cover the round trip costs for even one appointment, depending on where a woman lives. And the bill does not guarantee that women will have access to pre-natal care or transfers to facilities with health care providers trained in emergency obstetrical care. In fact, the majority of preventable maternal deaths occur in public hospitals, which are more likely to serve the poor, people living in rural areas, youths and minorities. Nothing in PM 557 will actually help reduce maternal mortality. All it will do is provide the state with another tool to keep women from obtaining abortions. And, it is unclear what will happen to women whose pregnancies end in miscarriages. Will miscarriages be investigated as suspected abortions?

A provisional measure, which Rousseff used, is a legislative tool that allows a Brazilian president to enact legislation without prior congressional approval and is intended for urgent matters. A congress can debate and approve the law only after it has been enacted. Congress will likely not review the law until it meets again in March.

Related links:

Brazil’s Insidious New Pregnancy Registration Law Violates the Privacy of Women (Slate/XX Factor)
Using Special Powers, Brazil’s President Mandates Compulsory Registration of All Pregnant Women (Daily Kos/RH Reality Check)

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