Brazilian politicians funded an online anti-abortion campaign ahead of Supreme Court ruling vote

Image: Bruno Fonseca/Agência Pública

This article, written by Bruno Fonseca and Mariama Correia, was originally published on Agência Pública's website on Sept. 21, 2023, and is republished here by Global Voices under a partnership agreement, with edits.

Conservative Brazilian politicians and media outlets have pushed anti-abortion campaigns ahead of a ruling in the country's Supreme Court that could lead to the decriminalization of abortion for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

The hearing began on September 22 via the virtual court system, with a favorable vote from then-president Rosa Weber. It was then halted, though, by a request from another justice, Luís Roberto Barroso, to send the vote to an in-person court session, where judges of the court have to make an oral defense of their votes.

Barroso, who is the new president of the Supreme Court (STF), declared there is no date set for the hearing to be resumed.

Currently, abortion is only allowed under Brazilian law in cases of rape, risk to the life of the pregnant woman, and where the fetus has the condition of anencephaly.

According to a survey by Agência Pública, politicians, parties linked to churches, influencers, and conservative media groups have chosen to use adverts on Meta’s platforms to try to influence people against the decriminalization of abortion. The report analyzed the adverts with the greatest reach in September and found that almost BRL 10,000 (about USD 1,985) were paid to these platforms by 15 profiles. The adverts analyzed had already been shown more than 2 million times by the publication of this report on September 23.

The champion of these adverts over this period was Renato Antunes, a state deputy from Pernambuco state and member of the Liberal Party (PL), the same as former president Jair Bolsonaro. He paid more than BRL 3,800 (around USD 745) to push a series of posts in September, which had more than 460,000 views on these platforms.

In his posts, he argues that the Brazilian Congress should decide on the matter and calls the Supreme Court hearing  “another attempt to attack the right to life.” Antunes was one of a group of Brazilian politicians who tried to prevent a 10-year-old girl from having a legal abortion after she was raped by her uncle in 2020. At the time, conservative anti-abortion groups gathered outside the hospital to protest and pray.

Then there is the messaging from Brasil Paralelo, a production company of conservative documentaries and programs that aim to become the “right-wing Netflix.” The company paid at least 2,000 BRL (about USD 397) to push a series of adverts for its online course on abortion. 

In one of them, Brasil Paralelo said that faced with ”this controversial issue” and the imminent Supreme Court judgment, the company decided to give free access to the inaugural class of the course “Abortion: who is the real victim?”. The company said that the class, conducted by a man who says he is a lawyer, deals with the consequences of ”legalization” and the effects of abortion on the physical and mental health of women who undergo the procedure, among other issues.

Brasil Paralelo posted the highest number of adverts on Facebook and Instagram in the country — the company has already paid more than 20 million BRL (about USD 3.97 million) since the figures began to be reported in August 2020. The amount is even higher than spending by Brazil’s Federal Government or by electoral campaigns, such as that of Jair Bolsonaro in 2022, which spent 2.7 million BRL (USD 535,800) on these platforms.

As well as profiles of politicians, Agência Pública also found adverts from the Republicans, a party linked to the highly conservative Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Since September 20, the party has been promoting content on social media where it states that it is “against abortion” and that its members will defend life from the moment of conception “with all their strength.” The party explicitly says that “the STF [Supreme Federal Court] cannot legislate on abortion,” referring to the decision by the court's president, Rosa Weber, to schedule the judgment. They say they are organizing in the National Congress “to prevent decisions like these from going forward.” 

Data from Meta shows an investment of over BRL 100 (USD 20) in less than 24 hours — the amount seems likely to increase, as the campaign remains active. By the afternoon of September 21, the content had been shown over 35,000 times.

The Republicans’ campaign is signed by six of the party's politicians, among them: Damares Alves, senator and former minister for Women, Family, and Human Rights in Bolsonaro's government; Diego Garcia, vice president of the Cross-Party Parliamentary Group in Defence of the Family and Support for Life; and Silas Câmara, vice president of the Group for the Defence of Religious Freedom and president of the Evangelical Parliamentary Group.

Supreme Court ruling

ADPF 442 (Instrument to Control Noncompliance with Fundamental Precepts [of the constitution], number 442) deals with the decriminalization of abortion in Brazil up to the twelfth week of pregnancy.  This was filed in 2017 by the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL). Judge Rosa Weber, who retired in October, voted in favour of decriminalization. Her vote will remain valid when the process resumes.

According to the National Research on Abortion, one in every seven Brazilian women had an abortion. An estimate of around five million women, ages 18 to 39.

Between 2012 and 2021, 367 women died from problems resulting from secret, unregulated abortion procedures. Unsafe abortions are one of the biggest causes of maternal deaths in Brazil. 

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