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In Brazil, an abortion debate pits feminists against the church

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In Brazil, an abortion debate pits feminists against the church

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – In 2019, Mariana Leal de Souza, a 39-year-old Black woman living outside Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, was having a hard time coping with the suicide of her teenage son when she was confronted with more difficult news: She was pregnant.

“I couldn’t believe it,” the social worker told Al Jazeera during a recent video call. “Mentally and financially, I wasn’t ready for another pregnancy after the loss of my son.”

She decided to terminate, but there was a problem: Brazil’s Penal Code permits abortion only if the pregnancy is the result of rape, puts the mother’s health at risk or doctors diagnose severe malformations to the fetus. None of these applied to Leal de Souza.

So she enlisted the help of three close friends, one of whom had connections to an underground supplier of Cytotec, a medication originally intended for ulcers but repurposed by low-income women in Latin America as a means to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Pooling their resources, they came up with $150 to buy the medication.

But the experience was agonizing. As Leal de Souza recalled: “It felt as though my body was expelling everything. I experienced chills, intense abdominal pain and bleeding.” She assumed these were standard complications and tried to tough it out, but the ensuing weeks brought her no respite.

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“The bleeding wouldn’t stop, yet I couldn’t seek hospital care for fear of legal repercussions,” she said.

Two months later, with her abdomen swelling, Leal de Souza began to fear for her life. She decided to seek assistance at a nearby public hospital where she endured prolonged wait times and a barrage of inquiries before medical staff finally examined her.

Doctors made a startling discovery: A fetus remained inside Leal de Souza’s womb. She had been carrying twins, and only one fetus had been expelled.

The hospital concluded that this was the result of a miscarriage, sparing de Souza from criminal charges.

“I felt a sense of relief, yet simmering resentment lingered, knowing that if I were … white or [a] woman of means, I could have accessed safe clinical care without endangering my life,” she said.

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‘All women get abortions but … only the poor go to jail’

As many as 4 million abortions are performed annually in Brazil, Latin America’s most populous country. Of those, only 2,000, or 5 percent, are performed legally.

Women who undergo illegal abortions face prison sentences of up to three years if convicted, and the doctors who perform them can spend up to four years in prison. Part of Leal de Souza’s ordeal, she said, was that she was well aware of cases involving poor women who had faced incarceration for terminating their pregnancies.

Her story sheds light on a glaring reality in Brazil, a country that is home to more people of African descent than any other country in the world save Nigeria: Black and marginalized women bear the brunt of legislation that criminalizes abortion.

Neighbouring Argentina’s repeal of its abortion ban has influenced Brazil’s feminists [Gabriela Barzallo/Al Jazeera]

A study conducted by anthropologist Debora Diniz found Black women are 46 percent more likely than white women to resort to unsafe abortion practices.

A federal legislator representing Rio de Janeiro, Luciana Boiteux, spearheaded a legal initiative in the Supreme Court in 2017 proposing the enshrinement of abortion as a constitutional right.

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“The decriminalization of abortion is inherently a racial justice issue,” she told Al Jazeera.

Brazil’s abortion laws have remained largely unchanged since the 1950s. What has changed is the emergence in recent years of an animated feminist movement, inspired, at least in part, by the legalization of abortion in neighbouring Argentina in 2020 and the inauguration a year earlier of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose conservative administration was widely viewed as antagonistic towards Black people and women.

Bolsonaro’s policies sparked a response in the form of campaigns such as Nem Presa Nem Morta (Neither Imprisoned Nor Dead), which fights for the decriminalisation of abortion, and the women-led, anti-Bolsonaro Ele Nao (Not Him). Rallies have also been held, such as a March 8 demonstration in which thousands of protesters took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro to demand racial justice and safe, legal access to abortions.

At the march, one woman carried a placard that read: “All women get abortions, but while the rich ones travel to get one, we the poor go to jail.”

The women’s movement in Brazil is growing, but it has encountered pushback from the evangelical movement in its efforts to improve reproductive health for women.

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Evangelicals’ influence on Brazil’s abortion discourse

With the Christ the Redeemer statue standing high over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is typically associated with the Catholicism of its former colonizer, Portugal. But evangelical Christianity’s influence here began to expand 30 years ago, and today, one in three Brazilians identifies as evangelical. By some estimates, evangelicals will account for a majority of the country’s religious followers by 2032.

The proliferation of evangelicals in Brazil has helped discourage low-income women like Leal de Souza from seeking abortions.

“We’ve witnessed instances where evangelical nurses have exposed women and subsequently reported to authorities,” Boiteux, the federal legislator, told Al Jazeera in an interview in her office in downtown Rio.

Jacqueline Moraes Teixeira, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Brasilia, attributed evangelical growth to social and economic deficits in Brazil, one of the most unequal countries in the world.

“These churches bridge gaps left by the state, offering education, healthcare and sustenance, acting as indispensable [lifelines] for these communities,” she told Al Jazeera.

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For Leal de Souza, however, evangelicals have shut down the communication that is the bulwark of democracy.

“We used to have open dialogues within my family and neighbours who are now evangelicals. Nowadays, dissent is met with condemnation. This silence prevented me from sharing my decision to terminate my pregnancy,” she said.

 

Thousands rallied for abortion rights in Brazil in March
‘Together we are giants,’ reads a banner at a Brazilian rally last month for abortion rights [Gabriella Barzallo/Al Jazeera]

Evangelicals have also flexed their muscles on the political level. Of the 594 members of the National Congress, for example, 228 lawmakers from 15 parties belong to the Evangelical Parliamentary Front – 202 deputies and 26 senators.

“Evangelicals in Congress hold significant leverage and are regarded as an essential ethical bastion for religious activism in politics,” Moraes Teixeira said. “Consequently, their alliances and conservative stance carry significant societal weight.”

However, the final arbiter on lifting abortion restrictions is the Supreme Court.

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In a session in September, Chief Justice Rosa Weber voted in favour of a measure to decriminalise abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy. But the process was halted by another Supreme Court judge, Luis Roberto Barroso, who has since replaced the retired Weber as chief justice.

An investigation by the Brazilian news outlet Agencia Publica found that in the weeks leading up to the court’s deliberations, conservative politicians circulated anti-abortion campaigns on popular social media platforms.

For his part, Barroso said he is in favour of decriminalisation but wants more deliberation. In an interview with Al Jazeera last month, he said: “It’s challenging for the court to act against the sentiment of 80 percent of the population. We must shift public perception.”

“It’s crucial to engage society in dialogue and clarify the real issue: the unjust criminalization disproportionately affecting marginalized women,” he continued. “With greater awareness, I believe attitudes can evolve.”

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'Ron, I love that you're back': Trump and DeSantis put an often personal primary fight behind them

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'Ron, I love that you're back': Trump and DeSantis put an often personal primary fight behind them

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are signaling to donors that they are putting their rivalry behind them after a contentious and often personal primary fight.

DeSantis convened his allies this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to press them to raise money to support Trump, making the case over a seafood and steak dinner that they need to work together to prevent Democratic President Joe Biden from winning a second term. The governor and about 30 people then spent Thursday morning in a hotel conference room raising money for an outside group that supports the former president’s 2024 White House campaign.

Trump called into the gathering to thank members of the group for their work, according to four people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to publicly discuss the private session and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In what three people present described as a warm and gracious call to the group that was heard over speakerphone, Trump praised DeSantis and the effort, saying “Ron, I love that you’re back.”

A reconciliation helps both of them. Trump is trying to make up fundraising ground against Biden while DeSantis hopes to preserve a potential future White House run for which Trump’s supporters could be key.

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What to know about the 2024 Election

DeSantis and his top donors are raising money for the super political action committee Right for America, backed by big Republican donors such as Ike Perlmutter, who has agreed to match at least a portion of the DeSantis team’s fundraising rather than funneling money directly to Trump’s campaign.

That arrangement, reached after talks between the Trump and DeSantis camps, is designed to address concerns among DeSantis supporters about their money going to pay the former president’s legal bills, according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks. Trump notably blessed the structure when he called into the group’s meeting Thursday.

“This is where I want you to focus,” Trump said in a roughly 15-minute call, according to a senior political adviser to DeSantis who was not authorized to publicly discuss the private meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

DeSantis’ decision to push money to the PAC instead of giving directly to Trump’s campaign has raised eyebrows among some Trump campaign officials, according to a person familiar with the former president’s campaign thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the arrangement.

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Right for America is competing for donors with MAGA Inc., the chief super PAC backing Trump. Such groups are prohibited from directly coordinating with a presidential campaign, something that hamstrung DeSantis during his presidential run due to conflicts between his campaign and his support of Never Back Down, the largest super PAC backing DeSantis’ candidacy.

Other supporters of both men support the arrangement. Right for America is run by Sergio Gor, a longtime Trump ally who is close to the former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The two run Winning Team Publishing, which published two of the former president books.

Some DeSantis donors had been reluctant to give to Trump because they worried their money would help pay Trump’s lawyers in his criminal cases instead of being used directly to focus on beating Biden.

A number of big-name Florida contributors who have given to DeSantis remain hesitant about contributing to efforts to support Trump, said Al Hoffman, a Palm Beach County Republican donor and former Republican National Committee finance chair.

“I know that there are Republican conservative, big-money donors that are very reluctant to endorse Trump,” said Hoffman, who was also chairman of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 2002 reelection campaign.

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DeSantis endorsed Trump when he dropped out of the race and promised in a face-to-face meeting with the former president in April to work for his campaign. The 45-year-old governor, who has won two terms and pushed a longtime swing state increasingly to the right, may run for the White House again and would need the backing of Trump voters in a future Republican primary.

DeSantis called his allies to Fort Lauderdale this week to raise money for Trump, telling them on Wednesday night that they needed to work to prevent a second Biden term.

The meeting was the kickoff for what is expected to be a coast-to-coast fundraising effort by DeSantis allies, with upcoming events likely in Texas, California, Washington state and perhaps New York.

Trump and DeSantis have also discussed a role for the governor at the Republican National Convention. Aides to DeSantis said it was Trump’s suggestion and was not contingent on any fundraising effort on DeSantis’ part.

Donors who discussed the Thursday event were struck by the collegiality between Trump and DeSantis during the call to the meeting. One person who spoke on condition of anonymity about the closed-door gathering called the conversation “very gracious” and noted that Trump and DeSantis talked about golf, a favorite Trump pastime.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

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The Mystery of Indira Gandhi's assassination by her own bodyguards

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The Mystery of Indira Gandhi's assassination by her own bodyguards

Indira Gandhi, a prominent Indian politician and the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s inaugural prime minister, was tragically assassinated by her own bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984. 

Born Nov. 19, 1917, she emerged as a central figure in her country’s political landscape, eventually becoming prime minister in her father’s footsteps. 

The trust she placed in her favorite Sikh security guard, following Operation Blue Star, ultimately proved to be a fatal mistake. In exploring the narrative of Gandhi’s assassination, it is crucial to examine the backgrounds and motivations of her assailants, shedding light on the reasons that led to their fatal decision.

Prior to her time in office, Indira Gandhi studied at prominent institutions, including Somerville College, Oxford and the Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal. (Shukdev Bhachech/Dipam Bhachech)

Who was Indira Gandhi?

Gandhi served as her country’s third and only female prime minister starting in 1966 to 1977, and then served another term from 1980 until she died in 1984.

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As a central figure of the Indian National Congress, she was admired for her leadership and criticized for her authoritarian approach. She played a significant role in Indian politics and is often cited as a trailblazer for women throughout the country.

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Gandhi was a key player in Indian politics for 17 years, whether in office or out of it. She played an active role in the Independence movement and closely worked with her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, a pivotal figure in the establishment of contemporary India, serving as his assistant when he was prime minister. In 1959, she also held the position of president of the Indian National Congress.

Indira Gandhi speaks into microphone to crowd

Indira Gandhi’s tenure has been characterized by significant economic and social changes, but also by allegations of authoritarianism.

Indira Gandhi becomes prime minister

Gandhi rose to power suddenly after Lal Bahadur Shastri died in 1966. At the outset of her leadership, India struggled with significant economic hardships, including high inflation and food shortages. The country’s agricultural sector was vulnerable due to its dependence on the monsoon seasons and aid from the U.S. 

She also faced substantial political challenges and dedicated much of her tenure to overcoming these issues, the same issues Nehru attempted to resolve. She fought to direct India toward self-reliance and economic resilience. By 1980, India had become self-reliant and even became a nation of grain surplus, alongside notable industrial progress — achievements attributed to her governance.

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Indira Gandhi with father Nehru

Indira Gandhi’s involvement in politics began at an early age, often accompanying her father on his political campaigns. (Hulton Archive)

Acknowledged milestones during her leadership include the triumph in the 1971 War with Pakistan, the formation of Bangladesh and the cementing of India’s status as a potential nuclear power. All of these developments strengthened India’s self-esteem. 

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Her tenure ended with her assassination, leaving behind a legacy of achievements and unresolved tensions. 

Indian society was divided about her; some called her “Mother Indira,” and others viewed her as authoritarian. However, it is widely accepted that her leadership shaped India and set the course for its future.

Ram Bulchand Lalweni being led away to court after a failed assassination attempt of Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984, following the events of Operation Blue Star. (Keystone/Getty )

Operation Blue Star

Gandhi’s time as prime minister was impaired by increasing tensions with Sikh separatists, culminating in Operation Blue Star. This was the Indian army’s response in June 1984 to remove militant Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers, who had hidden themselves within the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The militants’ substantial armaments led to a heavy-handed military response, which included the use of artillery.

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The conflict ended on June 10 with the army seizing control of the temple. However, the operation, which coincided with a significant Sikh religious event, resulted in numerous civilian deaths who were present at the time. This resulted in widespread condemnation from Sikhs globally. They interpreted it as an attack on their religious community.

Indira walking during the Inspecting Guard of Honor ceremony

Indira Gandhi served as prime minister of India for three consecutive terms (1966-77) and a fourth term from 1980 until her assassination in 1984.

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The repercussions of Operation Blue Star severely damaged Gandhi’s standing with Sikhs, which eventually led to her assassination.

Assassination of Indira Gandhi

Gandhi’s assassination on Oct. 31, 1984, was committed by her bodyguards, notably Beant Singh, who was considered a favorite. The assassination was a consequence of the tensions from Operation Blue Star and led to a planned reassignment of Sikh bodyguards, including Singh. Gandhi canceled the transfer, worried about increasing her anti-Sikh persona. 

Indira Gandhi with son Sanjay

Indira Gandi married Feroze Gandhi in 1942, and together had two sons, Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. (Keystone/Getty)

On the morning of her assassination, despite being advised to wear a bulletproof vest, Gandhi was not wearing it. 

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As she walked through a gate headed to an interview, Singh shot her three times in the abdomen with his .38 revolver. Satwant Singh, another bodyguard, fired 30 rounds from his submachine gun. Following the assault, Beant was located and killed by Border Police, and Satwant was tried and executed in 1989.

Indira Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, succeeded her as prime minister of India. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This report has been updated to clarify Indira Gandhi’s successor.

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Salis under house arrest in Hungary pending trial and EU elections

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Salis under house arrest in Hungary pending trial and EU elections

Italian activist Ilaria Salis will be under house arrest until her trial concludes, with another hearing scheduled for Friday in Budapest. However, she could be released if elected in the European elections.

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Italian anti-fascist activist Ilaria Salis was released from Budapest’s maximum-security prison on Thursday morning, where she had been held for over 15 months, and placed under house arrest.

“We finally have the chance to hug her again, we hope this is a temporary stage before finally seeing her in Italy,” said Roberto Salis, the Milanese activist’s father.

The release follows a Hungarian court’s decision on May 15 to uphold Salis’ appeal against her pre-trial detention.

The Italian teacher will now be under house arrest in a flat in the Hungarian capital, monitored by an electronic bracelet.

It took several days to enforce the judges’ decision after a €40,000 bail payment.

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Salis was arrested on 11 February 2023 together with two German activists on charges of participating in the beating of three far-right militants and being part of a criminal association.

Salis’ lawyers are hopeful for a commitment “from the Italian authorities to secure Ilaria’s immediate transfer to Italy,” as required by European law.

After months of diplomatic tensions and protests against Hungary over Salis’ pre-trial detention, the activist’s case took a turn after she was nominated by the Left Green Alliance for the upcoming European elections in June.

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