Brazilian Bioethicist in Hiding due to Death Threats

Alison Reiheld warns that women’s reproductive rights remain under fire globally and that it’s not always safe to exercise or advocate for these rights.________________________________________

A few days ago, The Guardian reported on the dire straits afflicting Debora Diniz in Brazil. Diniz, a founding member of the Feminist Approaches to Bioethics Network has gone into hiding.

Diniz has long experienced harassment in Brazil for her feminist advocacy over women’s reproductive rights. She has worked with organizations such as the International Women’s Health Coalition, working groups studying the effect of Zika virus recommendations on women’s reproductive rights, and more. Her New York Times opinion piece on Zika and Brazilian women’s right to choose is recommended reading. In the context of World Health Organization and Latin American government recommendations for women who might become infected to not become pregnant, she wrote:

Lost in the panic about Zika is an important fact: The epidemic mirrors the social inequality of Brazilian society. It is concentrated among young, poor, black and brown women, a vast majority of them living in the country’s least-developed regions. The women at greatest risk of contracting Zika live in places where the mosquito is part of their everyday lives, where mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya were already endemic. They live in substandard, crowded housing in neighborhoods where stagnant water, the breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, is everywhere. These women can’t avoid bites: They need to be outdoors from dawn until dusk to work, shop and take care of their children. And they are the same women who have the least access to sexual and reproductive health care.

This is characteristic of Diniz’s carefully honed attention to the impact of the social location of women on their access to healthcare. You can find a summary list of her many Spanish-language and English-language contributions to the bioethics and feminist literatures here. Diniz also has delved into the use of film to effectively reach the public about bioethical issues.

Image Description: Group of women holding signs, protesting abortion in Brazil.

Now, The Guardian reports, Diniz finds herself in protective custody, hiding from those who have credibly threatened her with death and other terrors. Why? For her role in advocating for Brazil to liberalize its laws on abortion after a near-total ban on abortion under any circumstances was passed out of a Brazilian congressional committee in late 2017. As per Dom Phillips’ reporting on the issue,

Abortion is banned in Brazil unless a woman has been raped, her life is in danger, or the foetus has anencephaly, a fatal brain disorder. Unsafe abortions leave 250,000 women in Brazil hospitalised annually and cause 200 deaths.

Diniz has been in hiding leading up to a special hearing on the issue today and was set to be escorted to the hearing by police. After the hearing, there will be a vote on whether to decriminalize abortion. Phillips interviews women who have been denied abortion as well as obstetricians and Diniz herself (by phone). The article is well worth reading.

This is no post-feminist world. Reproductive rights remain under fire globally. Those who would seek to exercise these rights and those who advocate for them can find that the same holds true. It is not always safe to stand up for women and especially for vulnerable women.

The Impact Ethics Blog stands with Professor Diniz in this time and hopes for her continued safety, as well as the safety of the women for whom she advocates in a time when reproductive liberty in Brazil is in flux.

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Alison Reiheld (Editor of IJFAB blog) is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Women’s Studies at Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville. @AlisonReiheld

*A version of this commentary was published on the IJFAB Blog as a post from the Editor