In November, Adriana gave birth to a child she never wanted and spent two months fighting not to have. The first time Adriana was raped, on January 29, 2008, a stranger forced her into his car and drove to a parking lot near the airport in João Pessoa, the capital of the state of Paraíba in northeast Brazil. The stranger’s gang rented a house on her street. The second time, he drove a different car and threatened to go after her family if she told anyone what had happened.
Adriana, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, stayed inside her home for four months. Each day, her attacker passed by the window, holding two pointed fingers to his head to remind her of what she stood to lose. When Adriana, 26 and a virgin before she was raped, realized she was pregnant, she knew she wanted an abortion, but she didn’t dare ask anyone in her family for help. She knew her evangelical father, in whose house she lived, would tell her to have the child, and that her mother would be ashamed. So in early June, when the gang finally left the house on her street and moved on, Adriana went to the local public hospital.
Under Brazil’s penal code, abortion is a crime except in cases of rape or direct threat to the mother’s life. When Adriana went to the public maternity hospital, Instituto Cândida Vargas, on June 10, she explained that she had been raped, estimated that she was nineteen weeks pregnant and asked for an abortion. The receptionist sent her to the hospital psychologist, who told her that women have a responsibility to have children. The doctor held up the stethoscope so she could hear the baby’s heartbeat, told her the hospital only does abortions until twelve weeks and sent her away.
Adriana’s case received far less attention than that of the 9-year-old girl who received an abortion in Recife, a nearby city in the state of Pernambuco. In early March, the Catholic Church excommunicated two doctors for performing the abortion, which fell under both exceptions to the penal code: the girl had been raped by her stepfather, and her hips were too narrow to safely give birth to the twins she was carrying. (Following an international uproar, the Church withdrew the excommunication.) The doctors agreed to the procedure, but in an interview on Brazilian national television the next day, Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Recife announced that when government laws and the “law of God” conflict, “the human law has no value.”