Termination of Pregnancy and Abortion in Brazil

Information on the legal issues surrounding abortion in Brazil...

Abortion in Brazil is illegal, except in three circumstances, and carries severe penalties for the consenting woman and the provider of the abortion.

As Brazil has the largest percentage of Catholics of any country in the world, the Vatican has also voiced its opposition to any legal reform allowing improved access to abortion.

There are currently only three situations in which an abortion can be legally conducted in Brazil:

  • Rape or incest
  • If the life of the pregnant woman is at risk
  • The fetus has anencephaly

For consenting to an illegal abortion, or performing one herself, a woman can be imprisoned for one to three years. If the woman is harmed, the sentence given to the abortion provider is up to four years and, should the woman die, the consenting party can be imprisoned for six years. Judgments have been made, however, to sentence women to perform community service in lieu of serving time in jail.

Exceptions to the law

Rape/incest

In 2013 a new law decreed that a woman was no longer obliged to prove her allegation of rape before being able to access abortion services. The definition of non-consensual sex was also expanded by the Lei Maria da Penha Law of 2006 to include marital rape which previously had no explicit legal standing. This means that wives who are raped by their husbands have the right to legally terminate the pregnancy.

  • Any woman who has become pregnant through non-consensual sex is able to submit her request for abortion (in writing). Hospital or clinic staff must facilitate her access to all appropriate services on the day she makes the request.
  • Sex with anyone below the age of 14 is automatically defined as rape. This may also apply to those aged between 14 - 18 depending on the age of their sexual partner. Pregnancies that result from statutory rape may be aborted with the consent of the minor child's parent or guardian.

Anencephaly

If a fetus is confirmed as suffering anencephaly, written confirmation will be required from three doctors. This confirmation needs to be submitted along with the written request for an abortion.

The procedure

Abortions must be carried out by a physician and, in the event of rape or incest, consent from the pregnant woman or from her legal representative must be obtained. Depending on the reason for the abortion, confirmation from one or more doctors may also be required.

Although the process will vary between facilities, the basic steps are:

  • An intake meeting is conducted with a social worker who documents the patient’s personal details and circumstances surrounding the request for an abortion.
  • The patient is then referred to a doctor and sometimes a psychologist (there are usually a few days between meeting the social worker and seeing a doctor).
  • Upon meeting the doctor, an ultrasound may be performed to confirm the length of the pregnancy
  • A drug is applied to the cervix to soften it overnight. Some women experience spontaneous miscarriage at this stage
  • If no spontaneous abortion occurs, the patient is taken to surgery the next day
  • The procedure is usually carried out via dilation and curettage rather than vacuum aspiration
  • The quality of post-surgery care varies although the patient is almost always free to leave the same day provided there are no complications
  • Medical abortion is available in limited circumstances

Statistics

  • 82 percent of Brazilians believe the current law should remain, according to a 2010 survey. Only 16 percent believed it should be expanded to include other circumstances with 10 per cent supporting decriminalization
  • It is estimated that around one million abortions are conducted illegally in Brazil each year
  • Complications from illegal abortions are the third leading cause of maternal deaths in Brazil

Family Planning

For advice, help or information on family planning issues in Brazil, women will generally consult a gynecologist (gynaecologista) or a general practitioner. Non-profit Family Planning organizations like BemFam (in Portuguese) offer impartial advice on reproductive health issues.

Related Information

  • Women On Waves is a Dutch non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions throughout the world