Assessing Brazil – Where Abortion Laws Have Sabotaged More Lives Than They Have Saved #Abortion Laws (Part 4)

Posted on November 22, 2012

By Priyanka Vaid: 

To give birth is a fearsome thing; there is no hating the child one has borne even when injured by it. —Sophocles

Life unfolds when we are born into the world but controversies have a way of seeping even through a mother’s womb. The abortion debate has been going on for quite some time now with the restrictions on induced abortions varying throughout the world. Almost all the developed countries allow abortions without any restrictions as to reason whereas the developing countries’ circle is abound with nations where abortion is restricted through the implementation of severe laws.

Brazil, the largest Lusophone country in the world, has highly legal restriction on abortion with it being allowed only if the pregnancy puts the life of the mother in danger or the pregnancy is the result of a rape. The law does not establish a legal gestational limit; however, the Ministry of Health guidelines recommend that abortions be conducted before 12 weeks gestation.

In March this year, the Brazilian Supreme Court decriminalised abortion if the foetus suffers from anencephaly — a severe foetal anomaly causing the foetus to lack parts of the brain and to have no chance of survival after birth. While this is a welcome amendment in the law, the stringent restrictions have indirectly led to a number of avertable deaths in the country. Women either resort to self-abortion or abortions are carried out by persons not equipped to perform such procedures in unsanitary conditions.

The practice of clandestine abortion is a major cause of death in women in the age group of 14-44 and in some other cases it leads to morbidity. Marta underwent an illegal abortion at the age of 26 after her husband-from whom she was separating- raped and impregnated her. Although Brazil allows for abortion in case of rape as an exception, but marital rape is not recognised by the law; so she couldn’t seek a legal abortion. She opted for an illegal abortion but, since she didn’t have the money to avail the service at a private clinic, she took Cytotec, a pill widely used in some Latin American countries (where abortion is illegal) to induce miscarriages. Though this pill is banned in the country but it is available on the black market. After taking the pill, Marta bled for 40 days. This is not a single case but a widespread phenomenon in Brazil.

According to a survey conducted last year, while a majority of the population considers abortion as a religious and moral issue, alarming cases of illegitimate abortions point to a grave public health concern.

Brazil has the world’s largest Catholic population and the Brazilian Catholic Church denies all forms of abortion that are carried out with the aim of destroying the embryo or the foetus. In the past, there have been instances of interference of the church with the laws of abortion in the country. In the year 2009, the Archbishop of Recife, a north-eastern city of Brazil, excommunicated the doctors, and the mother of 9-year-old rape victim for carrying out and supporting abortion in compliance with the laws.

Whether it’s the church or the law, neither has been a staunch supporter of the reproductive rights of women in Brazil. Despite abortion being legal in case of rape, a girl named Renata became a mother at the tender age of 12; she had to give birth to her child because of the delay in the process of issuing of orders by the court.

The government has taken steps to make contraceptives more easily available but this hasn’t deterred the rate of unwanted pregnancies and the resulting illegal terminations. Easier accessibility to contraceptives, educating the youth in this matter and more relaxed abortion laws are essential to safeguard the reproductive rights of women and to prevent avoidable injuries or deaths.

Since curbing of abortions hasn’t worked well for the women in the country, the government might as well try to relieve some of the limitations so that the rising cases of deaths and disabilities due to unsafe abortions are kept in check.

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