SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Pro-life movements in Brazil are campaigning for a fast approval in Congress of a bill aiming to equate abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy to homicide, carrying a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The Christian bloc in the Chamber of Deputies – formed mainly by Evangelical Congressmembers – has been pushing for the approval of a “regime of urgency” for the bill. That measure would exempt it from the need to be approved by different Congress’s commissions before being moved to be voted in the assembly.

The bill was introduced by Congressman Sóstenes Cavalcante, an Assembly of God theologian who formerly led the Christian bloc and is a member of former President Jair Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party.

Nowadays, abortions are legal in Brazil if the pregnancy was the result of rape, if it puts the mother’s life in danger, or if the unborn child has no brain. There is no time limit for the practice of an abortion in such cases.

In cases of illegal abortion, the current legislation establishes penalties of 1 to 3 years in prison for the mother; 1 to 4 years in prison for the doctor or other person who conducts the abortion; and 3 to 10 years in prison for a person who carries out an abortion without the mother’s consent.

Cavalcante’s bill would impose 6 to 20 years in prison for the mothers and doctors who perform an abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, even if it was the result of rape. That’s the same penalty applied in cases of homicide in Brazil.

Cavalcante introduced the bill on the same day that Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes suspended a resolution that had been approved by the Federal Medical Council and forbade doctors to induce cardiac arrest on an unborn child with more than 22 weeks of pregnancy. Many observers claim Cavalcante’s bill was a response to de Moraes’s measure.

On Jun. 11, pro-life and pro-abortion groups demonstrated in Brasilia to influence the Chamber of Deputies’ president Arthur Lira’s decision regarding the urgency of the bill, but the day ended and he didn’t announce any change in its status.

Feminist activists have been campaigning against the project since last week in different parts of the country. They argue that the bill will especially impact the children who are victimized by rapists and end up getting pregnant, so they defined it as the “Child Pregnancy Bill.”

In 2022, 74,930 cases of rape were reported in Brazil. Sixty percent of the victims were children under 13. In 2023, according to the federal government, 12,500 girls with ages ranging from 8 to 14 became mothers in the country.

Feminist groups say that most of those cases are covered with fear and shame, so many girls only report they were raped and discover they’re pregnant after many weeks. Abortions after 22 weeks, therefore, are needed for those victims.

An alliance of 68 feminist movements and organizations released a letter about those situations, emphasizing that over the past 10 years an average of 20,000 girls under 14 had a baby each year.

Pro-life movements believe that such a terrible scenario should not be employed by pro-abortion activists to justify the killing of viable babies.

“In reality, their final goal is to build a new civilization in which even already born babies could be ‘aborted,” Elizabeth Kipman Cerqueira, a gynecologist who is a national coordinator of the Citizens’ Movement for Life – Brazil Without Abortion, told Crux.

She said many doctors, even atheist ones, are against the practice of abortion after 22 weeks, given that a relevant proportion of babies can survive out of their mothers’ wombs in that phase if special care is provided to them.

“Most pro-life movements have been supporting that bill. It’s an important obstacle to the advance of more and more pro-abortion measures,” Cerqueira said.

Some pro-lifers, however, think that the bill somehow implies that aborting a baby before 22 weeks is something acceptable, she said.

“In a serious situation like the one we’re going through, we can’t think like that. It’s important to block the process the way we can and, in the following moment, we’ll struggle to recover what we had lost,” she said.

Cerqueira said that unborn children will only be safe in Brazil when their statute is finally approved – a long-term project of the pro-life movement that would make human life untouchable from the mother’s womb until natural death.

“That would be our final objective. But the current bill must be approved. It can raise awareness among many Brazilians on how serious it is to perform an abortion,” she said.