Abortion in Brazil

Abortion in Brazil is legal if the pregnancy puts the life of the woman in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of a rape.[1] The punishment for a woman who performs an abortion on herself or consents to an abortion performed by another outside these legal exceptions is one to three years of detention.[2] The base penalty for a third party that performs an illegal abortion with the consent of the patient, ranges from one to four years of detention, with the possibility of increase by a third if the woman comes to any physical harm, and can be doubled if she dies.[3] Criminal penalties fixed at four years or less can be converted to non-incarceration punishments, such as community service and compulsory donation to charity.[4]

Brazil is a signatory of the American Human Rights Convention, also called the Pact of San José. The Convention grants the right to life to human embryos, "in general, from the moment of conception", and has a legal status on a par with the Constitution in Brazilian Law. The Civil Code of Brazil also safeguards the rights of the unborn. In a 2008 case, however, the Supreme Federal Court ruled, by a 6-5 vote, that the right to life applies only to intrauterine embryos, and that frozen embryos not eligible to a uterus transfer do not hold fundamental rights and may be manipulated for research purposes. On 2012, the Supreme Court also authorized the practice of abortion on fetuses with anencephaly.

Recent events show that these laws are about to be amended. On the 29th of November 2016 the Supreme Court in Brazil ruled that "abortion should not be a crime when performed in the first three months of pregnancy".[5] This ruling could potentially set a new precedent on law surrounding abortion in Brazil.[6] It is very controversial, due to the fact that Brazillian Government just passed a bill, earlier in 2016, which aimed to make Brazilian law on abortion even stricter. [7]


A 1991 World Bank report estimated that the lifetime abortion rate is over two abortions per woman. In 1992 the Ministry of Health estimated the total annual abortion rate at between 800,000 and 1.2 million, based on extrapolations from abortion-related hospitalizations under the health system. The World Health Organization believes that this may be an underestimate.[8] Another study estimated that Brazilian women had 1.4 million abortions per year.[9] An estimate in 2009 gave three million for Latin America and three million for Brazil, mostly illegal because legal abortion is difficult to impossible to obtain.[10] A 2010 study found that 20% of Brazilian women of childbearing age have had an illegal abortion.[11]

Impact to women's health

A summary of maternal and children's health by country can be found at Save the Children State of the World's Mothers report.

In 2005, it was reported that 300,000 women a year were hospitalized for complications of unsafe abortion. Perhaps as a result, 77% of physicians surveyed thought that the law should be more liberal, with the more experienced doctors being more accepting of abortion.[12] In 2010, it was reported that 200,000 women a year are hospitalized for complications of illegal abortion.[11]


One-third of Brazilian doctors in a 2005 survey reported having performed abortions, mostly dilation and curettage. They have little experience with vacuum aspiration but they are aware of it as a method. They have a general awareness of medical abortion using misoprostol (Cytotec) or other prostaglandins to induce abortion but less experience with it. Few know of newer and more effective regimens using with mifepristone or methotrexate.[12]

The 2005 survey also found considerable ignorance of Brazil's law on abortion, with only 48% of the physicians knowing that it is legal to save a woman's life and widespread confusion about fetal age limits. An earlier survey found that two-thirds of Brazilian OB-GYNs incorrectly believed that a judicial order is required to obtain a legal abortion and only 27% knew that the woman needed to make a written request to obtain a legal abortion. Those doctors cannot give accurate information to their patients.[12]

In non-hospital settings, women's folk medicine allegedly brings on the menstrual flow rather than causing an abortion. "Two folk medical conditions, "delayed" (atrasada) and "suspended" (suspendida) menstruation, are described as perceived by poor Brazilian women in Northeast Brazil. Culturally prescribed methods to "regulate" these conditions and induce menstrual bleeding are also described, including ingesting herbal remedies, patent drugs, and modern pharmaceuticals."[13]

Public opinion

A March 2007 Datafolha/Folha de S.Paulo poll found that 65% of Brazilians believe that their country's current law "should not be modified", 16% that it should be expanded "to allow abortion in other cases", 10% that abortion should be "decriminalized", and 5% were "not sure".[14]

The last poll on this issue was made in December 2010, by the polling institute Vox Populi. This study revealed an increase among those who reject abortion. 82% of Brazilians consider that the current law on abortion should not be modified, while 14% consider that abortion should be decriminalized, and 4% declare to have no position on the matter.[15]

A survey of more than 4,200 obstetrician-gynecologists affiliated with the Brazilian Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that the closer they were to a patient, the more they accepted legal abortion for that person: 41% had helped a patient to get an abortion, 49% had helped a relative, 78% of these female doctors had obtained abortions for themselves, and 80% of these male doctors had helped a partner to get an abortion. The figure was slightly lower for very religious doctors: only 70% of them had obtained abortions for themselves or their partners.[12]

Excommunication controversy

In March 2009, after an abortion on a nine-year-old girl raped by her stepfather and pregnant with twins had been performed to save her life, Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife stated that automatic excommunication had been incurred by the girl's mother and the medical team. President Lula da Silva and Health Minister José Gomes Temporão decried his statement, and the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil disowned it, saying that the mother was certainly not excommunicated and there was insufficient evidence to show that any member of the medical team was. The statement was criticized also on the Vatican newspaper by the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. One of the doctors concerned said the controversy had drawn needed attention to Brazil's restrictive abortion laws.[16][17][18][19]

Anencephaly exception

In July 2004, a Brazilian federal judge issued a preliminary ruling that waived the requirement for court authorization for abortions in cases of fetuses with anencephaly. The Brazilian Council of Bishops lobbied against the ruling and the National Confederation of Healthcare Workers wanted to make the exception permanent. In October 2004, the full Brazilian Supreme Court convened and voted 7-4 to suspend the judge's ruling until the full tribunal had the opportunity to deliberate and rule on the matter.[12]

A 2005 study found that 53% of doctors had performed an abortion in the case of a severely deformed fetus, even though that was not allowed by Brazilian law without a court order. Doctors who thought that the law should be more liberal were more likely to have correct knowledge of abortion law and to be familiar with the abortion law regarding severe fetal malformations.[12]

On April 12, 2012, the Supreme Federal Court ruled by an 8-2 vote to legalize abortion in cases of fetuses with anencephaly, saying that it was not about a potential life because an anencephalic fetus would certainly die and never become a person. Religious anti-abortion movements criticized the decision of the court, saying that anencephalic fetuses also had a right to life.[20]


  1. Brazilian Criminal Code (in Portuguese), art. 128.
  2. Brazilian Criminal Code (in Portuguese), art. 124.
  3. Brazilian Criminal Code (in Portuguese), arts. 125 and 127.
  4. Brazilian Criminal Code (in Portuguese), arts. 43 and 44.
  6. hg-CM-mk, teleSUR /. "Brazil Supreme Court Decriminalizes Abortion in First 3 Months". Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  7. "A new bill aims to make Brazil's abortion law even tougher". Public Radio International. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  8. Expanding family planning options: An assessment of the need for contraceptive introduction in Brazil, World Health Organization, 1994
  9. Singh S.; Wulf D. (1994). "Estimated levels of induced abortion in six Latin American countries". International Family Planning Perspectives. JSTOR. Retrieved 2012-12-14. Abstract: "In countries where abortion is illegal, a range of approximate levels of induced abortion can be calculated from data on the number of women hospitalized for treatment of abortion complications, after correcting for underreporting and misreporting and adjusting to eliminate spontaneous abortions. An estimated 550,000 women are hospitalized each year as a result of complications from induced abortion in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru. About 2.8 million abortions are estimated to occur in these countries annually when women not hospitalized as a result of induced abortion are taken into account. If the situation in the six countries is assumed to be typical of the entire region, then about 800,000 women are probably hospitalized because of complications of induced abortion in Latin America in a given year, and an estimated four million abortions take place. The abortion rate most likely ranges from 23 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-49 in Mexico to 52 per 1,000 in Peru, and the absolute number ranges from 82,000 in the Dominican Republic to 1.4 million in Brazil. From 17% of pregnancies in Mexico to 35% in Chile are estimated to end in induced abortion." (1994 figures)
  10. "Latin America: Women and Abortion". Hivos. 2008-11-04. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
  11. 1 2 Andrew Downie (2010-06-02). "Abortions in Brazil, Though Illegal, Are Common". Time. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Goldman, Lisa A (2005-11-15). García SG, Díaz J, and Yam EA. "Brazilian obstetrician-gynecologists and abortion: a survey of knowledge, opinions and practices". Reproductive Health Journal. 2 (10). doi:10.1186/1742-4755-2-10. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
  13. Nations MK, Misago C, Fonseca W, Correia LL, Campbell OM (June 1997). "Women's hidden transcripts about abortion in Brazil". Soc Sci Med. 44 (12): 1833–45. doi:10.1016/s0277-9536(96)00293-6. PMID 9194245.
  14. "Brazilians Want to Keep Abortion as Crime." (April 12, 2007). Angus Reid Global Monitor. Retrieved June 20, 2007.
  15. População rejeita mudanças na lei sobre aborto, gays e drogas, Último Segundo, 5 de dezembro de 2010 (in Portuguese)
  16. Brazil attacks church opposition to girl's abortion Stuart Grudgings, Reuters. Retrieved 2010-4-13.
  17. Nunes Leal, Luciana (13 March 2009). "CNBB desautoriza iniciativa de bispo". O Estadão de S.Paulo.
  18. "Excommunicated doctor hailed for abortion on child rape victim". CNN. March 11, 2009.
  19. Fisichella, Rino (15 March 2009). "Dalla parte della bambina brasiliana". L'Osservatore Romano.
  20. Langlois, Jill (April 14, 2012). "Abortion ban lifted in Brazil for fetuses with severe brain damage". Global Post.

See also

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