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BRAZIL: Time to Break the Silence on Abortion

The same research showed even more shocking results when statistics are broken down according to race/ethnicity, geographical location, and age. Black women in Brazil are three times more vulnerable to death due to unsafe abortion than the population of white women. Annual rates of unsafe abortion are visibly higher in states from poorer northern and northeastern regions, and abortions become even more dangerous for the adolescent population (between 10-19 years old).

These numbers lead to the consistent conclusion that unsafe abortion disproportionately victimizes less economically privileged social groups. And the statistics show the legacy of racism and social exclusion in Brazil that has lasted since the first Africans were brought here as slaves for Portuguese colonizers. Taking this context into consideration, it becomes clear that the issue of abortion, far from a topic to be kept exclusively in the intimacy of households, is a serious matter of public health and social justice, and deserves the attention of both government and civil society.

Criminalization Is Not the Answer

Proponents of criminalizing abortion in Brazil argue that it is a way of discouraging and repressing the practice. However, the evidence shows that a woman can usually find a way to have an abortion, even if it puts her own life at risk. In 2007 the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) supported this position.

In Brazil, the codes criminalizing abortion punish only the woman. Although the man is involved in making the woman pregnant, if the pregnancy is unwanted or unfeasible and she gets an abortion, her partner is considered innocent. The Brazilian criminal code, which dates back to 1940, assumes a role for women in society that is very different than it is today.

In addition, the criminalization of abortion creates a threatening atmosphere that makes many women present symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia once they have made the choice to end the pregnancy. Leila Adesse, one of the founders of Ipas Brasil, affirms that the penalization and stigmatization women in such a situation does not minimize the problem. “Instead of being discriminated against and put in jail, these women need psychological support, medical care and a more efficient coverage of contraceptive methods,” she says.

Towards Solutions

The most efficient way to reduce the rates of unsafe abortions is, of course, to reduce the rates of unwanted pregnancies. For that to happen, women have to be able to negotiate with their partners and engage in family planning. This demands a level field among men and women. We need to create an environment in our country in which women have a voice.

As a matter of public health and human rights, the reduction of unsafe abortions also demands a proactive attitude from the government. The situation requires public policies promoting education on sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights, and contraceptive methods. In addition, it is necessary to make condoms and other contraceptive options widely available to the population. These programs should prioritize people living in at-risk communities, and they must involve men as well as women. Gender equality cannot be built by women alone.

But even in countries where these policies are put in place effectively, they are not enough to entirely solve the problem of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion. Therefore, we should legalize abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, as is the case in most countries in Europe. This would remove barriers to women’s health in our country, especially for those women who are socially excluded.

It won’t be easy to get there. The fact is abortion is a contentious topic. It deals with the most serious issue of all—life. One day I caught myself talking to my grandmother about abortion. From this unlikely dialogue between a strongly Catholic 70-year-old woman and an agnostic 17-year-old girl, we did not reach any definitive conclusions, but we realized that we both had our reasons, which were legitimate and made sense, however different our beliefs were.

One can be against the legalization of abortion in order to protect life and one can also be in favor of the legalization of abortion for the exact same reason. The difference, in many cases, lies in whose life you are considering the most important. And to consider some lives more important than others is undoubtedly problematic.

Despite all these doubts, there is one thing I am certain about: unsafe abortion is a reality in Brazil. And thus, no matter how controversial this subject is, debate should not be avoided, but encouraged.

After my father was excommunicated, he told me that he was glad this had happened because it fostered debate. He added, “I just hope all this debate will be constructive.”

About This Story

This article was produced as part of a writing assignment for World Pulse's Voices of Our Future digital empowerment and citizen journalism training program.


Sheena1's picture

Hi Thais, I really loved your

Hi Thais,
I really loved your piece. Your passion for the issue really shows.

Thanks for sharing!

Nezed's picture

A 9yr old child? When will

A 9yr old child? When will this injustice against women and the girl child ever end? When?

I do not aim for Perfection; Just excellence!

Okeny-Lucia's picture

You are a great Man

I have stumbled on a nery important information that I would like to introduce in my community health education for reproductive health rights.It has been hard I can say trying to break the thoughts.
Thank you for that Thais

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

Valéria Barbosa da Silva's picture

Right to be children

Dear midwife.

Abortion is a controversial issue in our country because of the religious influences as well as you said.

Life is the most important gift in the world and especially a child, and that children as young as 9 years suddenly because of a religious culture comes to life at risk, I'm thinking:

Christ was only love, love is not abuse, does not violate, the other does not take away the right to choose life.

This child had no choice and was submitted to the power of an abuser and with the endorsement of religious power.

The doctor is trained to save lives the religious spirit, but what is the appropriate body without a spirit to nourish the fruit of a rape, wanted terrorists in the days of a young man?

God never excommunicate the right to be a girl child, and as a child he would not support that it had to put their physical and emotional health in a shallow grave.

As for his father and the team, the act ensured the law and medicine softened the future already marked this child giving you the chance to stay alive without the responsibility of bearing children without maturity and desire to have them.

Right to be children; Congratulations matter.


RareTexan's picture

The man accused of the rape

What happened to the man the was accused of raping this 9 year old girl?

RareTexan's picture

Abortion is about Life.

Quoting the writer:

"One can be against the legalization of abortion in order to protect life and one can also be in favor of the legalization of abortion for the exact same reason. The difference, in many cases, lies in whose life you are considering the most important. And to consider some lives more important than others is undoubtedly problematic."

...undoubtedly problematic.

Protecting life is the bottom line. I consider the innocent life as the one with the greater protection. The unseen but felt innocent child has the greater right. I only believe abortion is moral when it is to save the mother’s life. Otherwise you are taking the life of the innocent child.

Sex is a powerful thing. But we must learn to engage with full responsibility of the consequences. This is where marriage is important. Marriage is a place of bonding and commitments of important responsibilities are made to each other. A disciplined man and woman will wait until marriage to engage in physical love. Selfish people engage in sex before marriage. Then to just kill and discard their mistake is an act of murder and should be punished accordingly. In this day and time we have DNA testing and both mother and father should be prosecuted. Life is very important and especially the innocent. We all make mistakes and act foolish, but a responsible person learns from those mistakes.

In the case of this 9 year old girl, she should have been closely watched up until it was just absolutely assured she would have died. Then the baby should be taken to save her life. Who knows, her body may have developed rapidly. If the child was taken then the stepfather should have not only been accused of rape but murder also.

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