LAST week a 10-year-old Brazilian girl wearing a little flowery dress and cheap flip-flops was bundled into a car boot clutching her fluffy toy frog. She was driven through a back door to a hospital guarded by military police past a throng of right-wing and religious extremists in order to have a termination.

Abortion is allowed in Brazil in just three instances: to save a woman’s life, if it is the result of rape and if the child is dead. This little girl was living through two of these circumstances. She was a victim of rape and her life was in imminent danger and so the judge in her home area ruled that the abortion should go ahead.

This wee girl had been raped on a weekly basis by her uncle. The pregnancy was only discovered when she was taken to hospital complaining of a sore and swollen tummy. The poor child confirmed that her uncle had been raping her since she was just six years old.

A child’s body is not emotionally or physically prepared for pregnancy and the continuation of it in this case would have been a continuation of the abuse this young girl had suffered for almost half of her life. But religious and right-wing extremists don’t care about women rights or science or morality. All they care about is their own misguided belief in the dogma that abortion in and of itself is wrong and evil.

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Within a week of the news of this young girl’s pregnancy leaking out, extremists from all corners of Brazil were rushing to shout, crucifix wave and scream about how this girl’s life – or death – should play out.

This operation should have been calmly, efficiently and quickly carried out according to the rule of law in a hospital close to her home as soon as possible. This should not have been mulled over and considered by a court. There was no question that this girl had been raped. This victim of sustained abuse should not have been subjected to racists and religious zealots outside the court calling her a murderer and waving baby-sized plastic dolls dripping with fake blood.

Her name and address were leaked online, as well as the personal details of the doctor who had agreed to perform the procedure, by a religious extremist named Sara Winter who previously worked in Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s government. Doctors in the girl’s home state – perhaps swayed by Bolsonaro’s minister for women, family and human rights, the conservative evangelical pastor Damares Alves – refused to perform the operation.

Supported by military police, her mother and grandmother and feminists from all over Brazil, the wee girl was taken 900 miles from her home to another part of the country where the procedure was safely performed, despite extremists trying to break into the hospital to stop it.

I felt my heart break at the very thought of her bruised, broken and vulnerable, and when I read that she was heard crying “I don’t want to be a mummy, I want my mummy”.

She is recovering but a lot of help and counselling will be needed for a very long time.

Prominent Brazilian feminist Debora Diniz states: “The day after her abortion must be the day we once again knock on the door of Brazil’s Supreme Court to remind its 11 justices that this girl’s pilgrimage could have been avoided, had they shown the courage of justice and fully legalised abortion in Brazil. The right time is now, the very instant when a petite little girl aborts because she was raped by an abusive man and mistreated by an extremist government.”

I’d like to think such an atrocity could not happen here in Scotland, but I would be wrong. It could – it really, really could. Unlike almost every other European country, and many countries worldwide, the termination of a pregnancy is still a crime in Scotland.

The decision to seek a termination can be due to a myriad of reasons: contraception failure, child sexual abuse, rape, coercive control, religion, family responsibilities, caring responsibilities, poverty, trafficking, prostitution, economic instability, youth, college or university studies – or indeed any one of any number of reasons that render women feeling unable to continue a pregnancy.

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I and many women’s organisations would argue that it’s time to make abortion free, safe and legal in every single situation. Women’s integrity and bodily autonomy and women and girls’ safety must trump politics and religious values each and every single time.

Unbelievably here in Scotland we have women who require to travel to England for abortion after 18-20 weeks, in much the same way as our Northern Ireland sisters or Irish sisters used to and much the same as the wee girl from Brazil had to travel nearly a thousand miles. As you can imagine there are very real challenges for women having to travel: finding money for transport and accommodation, lack of support, emotional challenges, arranging time off work or school and anxieties around people finding out. The stigma of abortion is still a very real issue.

In Scotland there remains patriarchal and paternal attitudes which seek to distinguish “good” and “bad” abortions. Even some of the most strident pro-lifers would be touched by the terrible story of the 10-year-old Brazilian rape victim and other similar stories. They might even agree to allow terminations in the case of rape and incest exceptions. But let’s just think about what that actually says.

It says that women who are “forced” into having sex are “good” and deserve help and those who choose to have sex are “bad” and must live with the consequences?

How are we ever to reach equality with those attitudes endorsed at state level?

The UK’s 1967 Abortion Act does not legalise abortion procedure in any way and indeed was never intended to decriminalise abortion, simply to set out the limited circumstances in which a termination may be legally carried out.

Indeed, women in England and Northern Ireland have been prosecuted for procuring abortion pills on the internet.

The law is now decades old and does not reflect the societal or technological changes since it was introduced. In 2020 the termination of a pregnancy is an extremely safe and straightforward procedure and the 1967 law takes no account of the many advanced developments in the decades since it was passed.

The Act states that, if in agreement and in good faith, two doctors are allowed to authorise abortion in certain strict circumstances without fear of criminal prosecution – but only if they confirm that continuing with the pregnancy poses a greater risk to a woman’s physical or mental health. To underline: it is the doctors who decide.

However, attitudes of individuals and of society change ... and not always in the linear progressive way we would hope.

Anti-abortion laws are springing up worldwide and most of us listened with horror last year when Donald Trump stated that US women should be criminally punished for having abortions.

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With the rise of the far-right across the world, we simply cannot be complacent. This could happen in Scotland. A shift to the right – either politically or socially, a few people who are members of the Society For the Protection of unborn Children getting elected to Holyrood or a few more religious columnists spouting persuasive, populist opinions using over-egged emotive language. In those circumstances it’s easy to see how things could get very difficult for desperate women and girls in Scotland.

That is why access to abortion should never be decided by a “gentleman’s agreement”. What happens if societal or political pressures lead the “gentlemen” to come to a different conclusion? Abortion law is fully devolved. We have the power to ensure women have the unlimited ability to access reproductive health care.

If we wish Scotland to be a leader in terms of human rights and equality it’s time to address why the termination of a pregnancy is still a crime in Scotland in the year 2020.