Illegal Abortions Proliferate in Brazil Despite Abortion Ban

A recent study conducted in Brazil revealed that although abortion is illegal in almost all cases, nearly 1 in 5 women of childbearing age have terminated a pregnancy, a staggeringly high percentage considering that the vast majority were obtained outside the law. And indeed, these are often unsafe procedures; 200,000 women are hospitalized each year due to complications from illegal abortions. One thing is clear: although for many Brazilians, abortion is a religious and moral issue, tied to Catholicism, this is a public health issue (even the outgoing president has admitted as much).

But does the government seem prepared to deal with it? Not really – in fact, Brazil’s Congress is considering legislation that would criminalize any act that would deliberately damage a fetus, a law that would tighten their already stringent abortion regulations. Brazil does not have a good track record with providing abortion rights of any kind, and its government and society are heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church (last year, the doctors who performed an abortion on a 9-year-old who was impregnated after being raped by her stepfather were excommunicated – a legal procedure, but still socially condemned).

“I think the big conclusion we draw from this is that the woman who has an abortion is a typical Brazilian woman,” explained the researcher who conducted the study. “She could be your cousin, your mother, your sister or your neighbor. All the evidence shows this is a serious problem and one that is not being debated openly.”

Interestingly, Brazil has vastly increased its budget for contraceptives over the past seven years, in an effort to fight AIDS and STIs as well as unplanned pregnancy. It seems illogical that the abortion rate would remain so high when affordable contraceptives were available, especially since it certainly seems less of a stretch to bend the Church’s rules on birth control than abortion, so I wonder what sex education in Brazil is like, and I also suspect that the high drop-out rate has a serious impact on people’s ability to take full advantage of these contraceptive services.

In any case, whatever the Brazilian government is doing clearly isn’t working as well as it could, and the result is a public health disaster. These studies prove, once again, that banning abortion does not end abortion; instead, it increases maternal mortality. The government has already defied the powerful Catholic influence by placing an emphasis on contraceptive services. The next logical step is to ease restrictions on abortion access.


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