Abortion Debate Reignites in Brazil

The New York Times recently reported on the flare-up of the abortion debate in Brazil after a nine-year-old girl obtained an abortion after being raped by her stepfather. Immediately after the abortion hit the news,

A Brazilian archbishop summarily excommunicated everyone involved – the doctors for performing the abortion and the girl’s mother for allowing it – except for the stepfather, who stands accused of raping the girl over a number of years.

“The law of God is above any human law,” said José Cardoso Sobrinho, the archbishop, who argued that while rape was bad, abortion was even worse.

Brazil is an intensely Catholic country; according to the Feminist Center for Studies and Advisory Services, a group that supports the loosening of the country’s strict abortion laws, 40 of the 50 abortion-related initiatives in Brazil’s Congress seek to further criminalize the procedure. According to the Times article, “One would require home pregnancy tests to carry labels with warnings like ‘The penalty for abortion is one to three years in prison.'”

And although Brazilian law allows for abortion in cases of rape or when the woman’s life is in danger, access to clinics is a huge problem for women and girls:

Most state-financed clinics are in capitals that can be as far as an 11-hour boat ride away, and they are concentrated in the wealthier southeast region. … The 9-year-old girl from Alagoinha sought medical treatment after complaining of pain. But with no legal abortion center near her home, she had to be driven about 140 miles to a state clinic in Recife.

Consequently, illegal abortions are common in the country:

The number of legal abortions of girls ages 10 to 14 more than doubled last year to 49, up from 22 in 2007, the Ministry of Health reported. That was out of 3,050 legal abortions performed last year in a country of more than 190 million. But the vast majority of Brazil’s abortions are not legal. The Ministry of Health estimates about one million unsafe or clandestine abortions every year.


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