Police in Brazil yesterday fired tear gas on crowds as thousands protested against a new amendment that would outlaw abortion under any circumstances.
Abortion is currently illegal in the predominantly Catholic country – except when the pregnancy is the result of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk.
In 2012 the Brazilian Supreme Court also authorized abortion in the case of foetuses diagnosed with anencephaly.
Women who seek abortion in any other circumstances can face up to three years in jail.
Last week a congressional committee voted to remove the exceptions to the abortion ban.
The committee – reportedly led by evangelical Christians – voted by a majority of 18-1 to accept the amendment, with the vote against cast by the only woman present.
Women’s rights groups have accused the government of attempting to disguise the move as a “Trojan horse” within an amendment to extend maternity leave for mothers of premature babies.
Yesterday, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to protest the move.
Women reportedly carried signs reading “secular uterus” and “I don’t deserve to bear the child of my rapist,” while others shouted “our bodies are ours.”
Some scuffles broke out near the Rio state legislature – with police firing tear gas on the demonstrators.
The Reuters news agency reports that over one million abortions are carried out at “clandestine clinics” every year in Brazil, with thousands of women ending up in hospital as a result of botched procedures.
The agency said a growing Evangelical caucus in Congress has led to lawmakers taking an ever-more conservative stance on social issues.
In practice, wealthy women often have access to safe procedures while the poor bear the brunt of the country’s restrictive laws.
The plan to remove the limited circumstances in which abortion is legal would require two thirds of the vote in both chambers of the country’s Congress – however, there are fears the required votes could yet be found as representatives trade support for votes on other pieces of legislation.