Brazil Begins Talking Openly about Abortion

Friday, July 23 2010

Government and Civil Society Committee to Review Abortion Law

(May 16, 2005) Abortion is illegal in Brazil, exceptions are made for cases of rape or where a mother's life is in danger. However, marital rape is not recognized under Brazilian law.

Many women seek abortions in private clinics, but the fee of $600 puts it out of the reach of many women.

Cytotec, a pill for treating ulcers, is widely used in Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic (where abortions are also illegal) to induce miscarriages. The medication is taken orally and works to dilate the cervix, according to All Women's of New York, an organization of private physicians that offer abortion services. In Brazil, Cytotec was banned a few years ago, but is still available on the black market for about $40.

An estimated 5,000 women die, and 800,000 are hospitalized every year as a result of clandestine abortions across the region, according to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). A large portion of these cases occur in Brazil, where illegal abortions are the fourth cause of maternal deaths.

A 2004 study by Brasilia-based government health statistics provider DataSus found that 238,000 women are hospitalized per year in public hospitals alone for complications due to illegal abortions at a cost of about $10 billion. The total toll and cost is assumed to be much worse because private hospitals weren't counted.

In April 2005, the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva established a tripartite commission, composed of members of the government, members of the legislature and members of civil society. The group aims to analyze the existing abortion legislation.

The commission has been criticized for including several pro-choice groups and women's health activists. Their recommendations will be packaged in a bill to be presented before Congress.

In the meantime, the government has also eased abortion policy in the case of rape. In March 2005, Brazil's Ministry of Health issued a directive that removes the requirement for a rape survivor seeking an abortion to present a police incident report.

The 1940 law that permits abortion for rape said nothing about requiring an incident report, says the Health Ministry's Araujo. The requirement of a police report, she says, evolved during the late 1990s, in response to fears within the medical community, which wanted protection from lawsuits in cases where it was later found that the women hadn't actually been raped, making the abortion providers open to criminal prosecution.

Many women's health advocates say that onerous requirement led to only 160 legal abortions in 2004. Many women know their aggressor and do not wish to report him for fear of reprisals. Meanwhile, they say, about 1 million illegal abortions are performed each year in Brazil, a country with a population of 185 million.

The government's move to eliminate the incident report has sparked a backlash.

Earlier this month, the President of Brazil's House of Representatives, Severino Cavalcanti, railed against the Health Ministry's directive for rape cases, suggesting they will open a Pandora's Box of false cases.


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