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Rebeca Mendes Silva Leite and the Fight for Women’s Abortion Rights in Brazil

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In late 2017, Rebeca Mendes Silva Leite was 30 years old and in law school when she found out she was unintentionally pregnant. With two small children at home, Rebeca relied on her father for financial support while she attended school on scholarship. She knew right away that she could not afford a third child.

Brazil: a country where abortion rights are nearly nonexistent

But Rebeca lives in the country of Brazil, where reproductive health options are severely limited. Abortion is legally banned except for cases of rape and when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Yet despite these restrictions, abortions in Brazil are relatively common—one survey found that 1 in 5 Brazilian women under 40 have had an abortion. In 2016, more than half a million abortions were performed in the country, the vast majority of which were considered illegal.

Challenging Brazil’s abortion ban in court

Even though Rebeca knew she could have a clandestine abortion herself, she was outraged that she would have to go underground to do so, possibly risking her health and safety in the process. In November 2017, she decided to bring her case to the Supreme Court of Brazil to argue against the laws restricting abortion access, on the grounds that restrictions violate constitutional principles and rights such as dignity, freedom, and health.

Given the strong stigma against abortion, Rebeca was the first Brazilian woman ever to fight for her right to an abortion in court.

Rebeca ultimately lost her court battle, and ended up obtaining a legal abortion in Colombia. However, her decision to challenge her country’s laws and become the face of the reproductive rights movement in Brazil has had a lasting impact. Rebeca also started the #EuVouContar (I Will Tell) blog to encourage other Brazilian women to share their stories of abortion, thus contributing to a much-needed conversation around the realities of abortion in the country.

Relief, not regret

Rebeca stunned Brazilians when she publicly addressed her reaction to her own abortion, claiming to feel confident and relieved after ending the pregnancy. As she said in her own words: "I feel very relieved to have followed this course, to be where I am now, I do not feel sadness, I do not feel distressed, I feel relieved to be where I am."

Rebeca’s public declaration was surprising to many who believed in the common stereotype that abortion causes women to feel only negative emotions, like sadness or depression. In fact, studies have shown that very few women regret their abortions and the vast majority feel relieved and confident that they made the right decision.

HowToUse commends Rebeca’s bravery and is encouraged that more women in Brazil are speaking out about abortion and their reproductive health. We will continue advocating for the rights of women in Brazil (and for those all over the world) to have access to safe, private, and effective medical abortions regardless of where they live.

If you or someone you know needs access to safe abortion options, visit our website for more information or contact any of our three partner providers: www.safe2choose.org, www.womenhelp.org, and www.womenonweb.org.

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