Brazilian elections: can abortion be a key factor?

Lívia Buzolin (2022)

New blogpost by Lívia Buzolin

Abortion is a topic that has been mobilised in the ongoing Brazilian electoral debates to attract votes or, at least, to make the opponent lose them. Even though abortion is legal in cases of rape, risk to the woman’s life or health, risk of severe foetal malformation, and in case of anencephalic foetus, abortion has been addressed in the electoral sphere mainly to support its criminalisation.

In the 2010 presidential elections, concerned with being labelled as in favour of decriminalising abortion, the presidential candidates tried to distance themselves from the topic to keep conservative voters’ support. In this scenario, conservative segments tried to discredit Dilma Roussef’s and the Workers’ Party’s (PT) candidacy based on their position on abortion. The public debate was more focused on the moral taboo rather than the necessity of a health public policy regarding safe abortion (FONTES, 2012; MACHADO, 2012). The same strategy was used in the 2014 elections when three candidates with high chances of getting elected avoided discussing topics such as abortion and homophobia in the debates.

The 2018 presidential elections had their own contours due to the role played by social media and the absence of public debates between the presidential candidates in the second turn. After the electoral programme of Fernando Haddad explored the topic of torture during the military regime and Jair Bolsonaro’s statements prone to it, Bolsonaro’s supporters disseminated memes on social media showing torture scenes of aborted foetuses as a way of neutralising the moral onslaught of progressives (ALMEIDA, 2019). The subject of sexual diversity was deployed in a similar way when content published by Jair Bolsonaro and his son, Carlos Bolsonaro, about the so-called “kit gay”[1] and the danger of “gender indoctrination” or “gender ideology” was employed to damage Fernando Haddad’s candidacy (LEITE, 2019).

Nowadays, Brazilians are following the 2022 presidential campaigns. One could argue that electoral discourses do not necessarily reflect the policy agenda after the newly elected president is in office. Since the two candidates with the highest chances of getting elected had already governed the country – Lula (2003-2011) and Bolsonaro (2019-2023) – it is worth analysing what has been done related to abortion in those time periods.

In 2005, during Lula’s government, Brazil came closest to decriminalising abortion when a tripartite commission was formed, made of members of civil society and representatives of the Executive and Legislative Branches, and a bill that established the decriminalisation of abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy was presented in Congress (MACHADO & MACIEL, 2017, p. 125).

During Bolsonaro’s government, experts of the Ministry of Health were exonerated of their positions by being responsible for technical note 16/2020 that gave instructions for providing access to legal abortion during the pandemic, after the president complained that the document was an “apocryphal draft ordinance on abortion that circulated on the internet”[2]. Two ordinances issued by the Ministry of Health in 2020 were disavowed by civil society organisations for placing obstacles to access legal abortion[3] such as requiring rape victims to visualise the foetal ultrasound and mandatory rape communication to the police authority by the doctors and nurses responsible for the patient.

In the current public debate, both presidential candidates seem to be maintaining their previous leaning on the topic, even though abortion is not part of any of the government’s programmes presented to the Brazilian Electoral Justice. Before the official campaign period started, Lula made a declaration in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion, stating that “it should be turned into a public health issue, and everyone should have the right to it”. Recently, Bolsonaro stated that being against the right to abortion will be a criterion for him to choose the next Supreme Court’s Justices[4].

These expressions of opinion have the ability to shape discourse and attract votes in the context of highly polarised elections such as the ones happening in Brazil at the moment and the outcome of these elections is an indicator of what to expect from abortion policies in the country in the next 4 years.

[1] It referred, in fact, to an educational material, called Escola sem Homofobia (Schools without Homophobia), that was part of a policy to educate children and teenagers on values related to non-discrimination against LGBTT people. The material was never distributed in public schools.

[2] Source: O Globo. Accessed September 27, 2022. Available on: <>.

[3] Source: CEPIA. Accessed September 27, 2022. Available on: <,da%20Interrup%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20da%20Gravidez%20nos >.

[4] Source: O Globo. Accessed September 27, 2022. Available on:>


ALMEIDA, Ronaldo. Bolsonaro Presidente: conservadorismo, evangelismo e a crise brasileira. Novos Estudos CEBRAP, 2019, p. 185-213.

FONTES, Maria Lucineide Andrade. O enquadramento do aborto na mídia impressa brasileira nas eleições 2010: a exclusão da saúde pública do debate. Ciência & Saúde Coletiva, 2012, p. 1805-1812.

LEITE, Vanessa. “Em defesa das crianças e da família”: refletindo sobre discursos acionados por atores religiosos “conservadores” em controvérsias públicas envolvendo gênero e sexualidade. Sexualidad, Salud y Sociedad, 2019, p. 119-142.

MACHADO, Maria das Dores Campos.  Aborto e ativismo religioso nas eleições de 2010. Revista Brasileira de Ciência Política, 2012, p. 25-54.

MACHADO, Marta Rodriguez de Assis; MACIEL, Débora Alves. The Battle Over Abortion Rights in Brazil’s State Arenas, 1995-2006. Health and Human Rights Journal, 2017, p. 119-131.