Slate.com (XX Factor), By Gillian Kane, January 6
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 IemanjÃ¡, 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.
At first glance, Provisional Measure 557 (PM 557) is not a bad law. It purports to address Brazil’s high maternal mortality ratio by ensuring better access to quality maternal health care, notably for pregnant women at a high risk for health complications. The problem is that it won’t reduce maternal mortality. Notwithstanding the fact that many of its provisions are legally and constitutionally questionable, its requirements are not based on sound public health policy.
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 InÃ¡cio 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.
Passing such a controversial law during the height of the holiday season without congressional review or approval suggests some backroom negotiations were at play. A provisionary measure is a legislative tool available to Brazilian presidents to pass a law without congressional authorization and is intended for urgent matters. Congress can only debate and approve the law once it has been enacted. While maternal mortality is absolutely a pressing issue, PM 557 is a law that requires long-term implementation to address an endemic issue; therefore, it clearly does not fall into that category.
Using Special Powers, Brazil’s President Passes Law Requiring Compulsory Registration of All Pregnant Women
RH Reality Check, By Beatriz Galli, January 6
In the dead of night on December 27, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff enacted legislation that will require all pregnancies to be registered with the government. Provisionary Measure 557 (PM 557) created the National System of Registration, Vigilance and Monitoring Women’s Care during Pregnancy and Post Childbirth for the Prevention of Maternal Mortality (National Registration System).
She used a provisionary measure””intended only for urgent matters””that allows the president to pass a law without congressional approval. Congress only gets to debate and approve the law once it has been enacted. Rousseff claims that PM 557 will address Brazil’s high rates of maternal mortality by ensuring better access, coverage and quality of maternal health care, notably for high-risk pregnancies. Both public and private health providers must report all pregnancies””providing women’s names””with the National Registration System so the state can then track these pregnancies, from prenatal to postpartum care, presumably to evaluate and monitor health care provided.
How does simply monitoring pregnancies reduce maternal mortality? There is no guarantee that care will be available to all pregnant women and no investment in improving health services included in the legislation.
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 ”œobligated” to have all the children she conceives and she will be monitored by the State for this purpose.
It’s unclear why Rousseff sought to enact this legislation so quickly and with so little opportunity for debate or public opinion. What is clear though is that women’s real interests and health needs are not the focus here””just their uteruses.