Abortion in Brazil

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Abortion in Brazil is a crime, with penalties of 1 to 3 years of imprisonment for the pregnant woman, and 1 to 4 years of imprisonment for the doctor or any other person who performs the abortion on someone else. In three specific situations in Brazil, induced abortion is not punishable by law: in cases of risk to woman's life; when the pregnancy is the result of rape; and if the fetus is anencephalic.[1][2] In these cases, the Brazilian government provides the abortion procedure free of charge through the Sistema Único de Saúde (Unified Health System). This does not mean that the law regards abortion in these cases as a right, but only that women who receive abortions under these circumstances, and the doctors, will not be punished.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] Criminal penalties fixed at four years or less can be converted to non-incarceration punishments, such as community service and compulsory donation to charity.[6]

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 provides rights to fetuses and embryos. 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 used for research purposes. In 2012, the Supreme Court also authorized the abortion of anencephalic fetuses.

On November 29, 2016, the Supreme Court in Brazil ruled in a non-binding decision that "abortion should not be a crime when performed in the first three months of pregnancy".[7] This ruling was controversial, due to the fact that the Brazilian government had passed a bill earlier in 2016 which aimed to make Brazilian law on abortion even stricter.[8] As of September 2023, the Court is considering a case that could decriminalise abortion up to twelve weeks; in one of her final statements before retiring as the Court's President, Rosa Weber, made a public statement stating that motherhood should be a choice and not an obligation.[9]


Abortion was criminalized in all circumstances in the penal code from 1890.[10] In 1940, the penal code provisions on abortion waived punishment on abortion in the case of rape or incest, or if the pregnant women's life was in danger.[11] A presidential decree in 1941, as amended in 1979, banned the advertising of a process, substance, or object designed to prevent pregnancy or cause an abortion.[12]


The number of clandestine abortions taking place in Brazil is a controversial subject which divides anti-abortion and abortion rights activists.[13] A study published by the International Journal of Women's Health in 2014, estimated that in Brazil about 48 thousand clandestine abortions occurs annually.[14] Abortion rights institutes like Anis - Bioethics Institute, however, estimate a much higher number.[15] More recent studies published in the International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics suggest that, despite Brazil's severe legislation, 500,000 illegal abortions are estimated to occur every year among women aged 18–39 years – or one in five Brazilian women.[16]

Impact to women's health[edit]

In 2010, it was reported that 200,000 women a year were hospitalized for complications due to abortion (which includes both miscarriages and clandestine abortions). More recent figures estimate that around 250,000 women are hospitalized every year due to illegal abortion complications, or 50% of all illegal abortions estimated per year.[17] Those figures contrast with 2–5% of women requiring medical care after an abortion in countries where abortion is legal.[18] The majority of women admitted at hospital after an illegal abortion are uninsured, representing a government cost of more than US$10 million every year.[19] More than 200 women die every year in Brazil, as a direct consequence of unsafe abortions. The prevalence of reproductive complications and other negative health consequences associated with illegal abortion is unknown.[17]


In a 2005 survey, one third of the Brazilian doctors who reported having performed abortions, used 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 mifepristone or methotrexate.[20]

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.[20]

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."[21]

Some women, if financially able, will travel abroad to have abortions, with Cuba, Mexico, Guyana, Aruba, Curacao, French Guiana, and the United States being some of the countries women travel to.[22]

Public opinion[edit]

.[citation needed] In a survey made in Ribeirão Preto (SP) in 2004, 70% of the Brazilian doctors responded that they didn't support the decriminalization of abortion in the country.[23] The survey also suggested that 77% of the doctors of this region rejected the opinion that abortion should be carried out solely because of the woman's desire.[23] Furthermore it suggested that 82.5% of these doctors also reject the legalization of abortion due to socioeconomic difficulties.[23] Finally, in the case of a possible legalization, 17.5% of them would agree to carry it out professionally.[23]

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".[24]

Another poll on this issue was made in December 2010, by the polling institute Vox Populi. This study revealed that 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.[25]

In case of fetuses with microcephaly caused by Zika virus, 58% of the population expressed opposition.[26]

Following the impeachment of former leftist President Dilma Rousseff, A survey of the Instituto Patricia Galvão, in 2017, showed that 62% of Brazilians opposed the idea of the legalization of abortion, while 26% supported the measure, another 10% could not answer.[27] The opinion polls carried out by the Paraná Research Institute in the same year also concluded that 86.5% of Brazilians were against the decriminalization.[28]

According to the Ibope (largest research institute in Brazil), in 2018, eight out of ten Brazilians oppose legalization.[29] In a survey conducted in 2018, by the Datafolha Institute, 41% of Brazilians declared themselves in favor of a complete ban on abortion, 34% said they wanted to keep the legislation as it is, 16% said that they wanted to expand it to more situations and 6% said they were in favor of legalizing abortion under any circumstances.[30] The anti-abortion view is also followed by the majority of federal deputies, which makes it virtually impossible to attempt to legalize abortion through the Legislative Branch.[31] All of this has led the small group of abortion supporters to appeal to the Supreme Court, claiming that criminalization of abortion, "violates fundamental human precepts".[31][failed verification][citation needed]

In 2021, a survey conducted by PoderData found that 58% of Brazilians are against the legalization of abortion in Brazil; those who are favorable of legalization add up to 31%. Another 11% did not know or did not respond.[32] Another survey conducted in 2021 by Paraná Pesquisas, however, found that 79% of Brazilians remain against the legalization of abortion, and 16.6% are favorable to it.[33][34][35]

In all the surveys carried out, in general, Brazilians are considered one of the peoples least in favor of legalizing abortion.[36] Currently, Brazil is the biggest country in the world to ban abortion in the name of the recognition of the rights of the unborn.[37]

Excommunication controversy[edit]

In March 2009, after an abortion on a nine-year-old girl raped by her stepfather and pregnant with twins had been performed because of the rape exception clause in Brazil’s Penal Code, 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.[38][39][40][41]

Anencephaly exception[edit]

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.[42] 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.[20]

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.[20]

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 children with anencephaly were biologically alive but that they were not a person, and therefore had no rights. The Catholic Church and Brazilian Pro-Life movements criticized the decision of the court, saying that even with a terminal illness, children with anencephaly also had the right to life.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Senado Federal, Brasil (2014). "Código Penal" (PDF). Brasil. pp. 50–51.
  2. ^ SELIGMAN, Felipe e NUBLAT, Johanna (12 April 2012). "Maioria do STF é favorável ao aborto de anencéfalos". Folha de S. Paulo. Retrieved 12 April 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Lemos da Silva, Rosângela (2010). DIREITO À JUSTIÇA E A LEI MARIA DA PENHA: uma análise na visão da isonomia material e forma. doi:10.24824/978856248092.8. ISBN 9788562480928.
  4. ^ Brazilian Criminal Code (in Portuguese), art. 124.
  5. ^ Brazilian Criminal Code (in Portuguese), arts. 125 and 127.
  6. ^ Brazilian Criminal Code (in Portuguese), arts. 43 and 44.
  7. ^ "BRAZILIAN SUPREME COURT TAKES STEP TOWARDS DECRIMINALIZING ABORTION". plus55. Archived from the original on 2016-12-02. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  8. ^ "A new bill aims to make Brazil's abortion law even tougher". Public Radio International. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  9. ^ "Aborto no STF: os detalhes do voto de Rosa Weber pela liberação; 'Fomos silenciadas!'". BBC News Brasil (in Brazilian Portuguese). 22 September 2023. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  10. ^ "Human Rights Watch: Women's Human Rights: Abortion".
  11. ^ "Human Rights Watch: Women's Human Rights: Abortion".
  12. ^ "Human Rights Watch: Women's Human Rights: Abortion".
  13. ^ "Audiência pública sobre aborto no STF tem batalha de números e depoimentos emocionais - Saúde - Estadão". Estadão (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  14. ^ "Pesquisa internacional projeta 48 mil abortos clandestinos no Brasil - Estudos Nacionais". Estudos Nacionais (in Brazilian Portuguese). 2018-08-14. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  15. ^ "1 em cada 5 mulheres até 40 anos já fez aborto no Brasil. Católicas e evangélicas são maioria". HuffPost Brasil (in Brazilian Portuguese). 2016-12-08. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  16. ^ Diniz, D.; Brito, L.; Ambrogi, I.; Tavares, A. B.; Ali, M. (2019). "Understanding the sexual and reproductive health needs in Brazil's Zika-affected region: Placing women at the center of the discussion". International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. 147 (2): 268–270. doi:10.1002/ijgo.12924. PMID 31314905. S2CID 197542431.
  17. ^ a b Malta, Monica; Wells, Samantha; LeGrand, Sara; Seixas, Michele; Baptista, Angelica; Silva, Cosme Marcelo Furtado Passos da; Kalume, Clarisse; Whetten, Kathryn (1 November 2019). "Abortion in Brazil: the case for women's rights, lives, and choices". The Lancet Public Health. 4 (11): e552. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(19)30204-X. PMID 31677774.
  18. ^ Sedgh, Gilda; Bearak, Jonathan; Singh, Susheela; Bankole, Akinrinola; Popinchalk, Anna; Ganatra, Bela; Rossier, Clémentine; Gerdts, Caitlin; Tunçalp, Özge; Johnson, Brooke Ronald; Johnston, Heidi Bart; Alkema, Leontine (16 July 2016). "Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014: global, regional, and subregional levels and trends". The Lancet. 388 (10041): 258–267. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30380-4. PMC 5498988. PMID 27179755.
  19. ^ Wenham, Clare; Arevalo, Amaral; Coast, Ernestina; Corrêa, Sonia; Cuellar, Katherine; Leone, Tiziana; Valongueiro, Sandra (24 July 2019). "Zika, abortion and health emergencies: a review of contemporary debates". Globalization and Health. 15 (1): 49. doi:10.1186/s12992-019-0489-3. PMC 6657045. PMID 31340836.
  20. ^ a b c d Goldman, Lisa A (2005-11-15). "Brazilian obstetrician-gynecologists and abortion: a survey of knowledge, opinions and practices". Reproductive Health. 2 (10). García SG, Díaz J, and Yam EA: 10. doi:10.1186/1742-4755-2-10. PMC 1308861. PMID 16288647.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "Brazil: Options for Abortion and Women's Organizations". Women on Waves.
  23. ^ a b c d Loureiro, David Câmara; Vieira, Elisabeth Meloni (June 2004). "Aborto: conhecimento e opinião de médicos dos serviços de emergência de Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brasil, sobre aspectos éticos e legais". Cadernos de Saúde Pública. 20 (3): 679–688. doi:10.1590/s0102-311x2004000300004. PMID 15263978.
  24. ^ "Brazilians Want to Keep Abortion as Crime Archived 2007-06-29 at the Wayback Machine." (April 12, 2007). Angus Reid Global Monitor. Retrieved June 20, 2007.
  25. ^ População rejeita mudanças na lei sobre aborto, gays e drogas, Último Segundo, 5 de dezembro de 2010 (in Portuguese)
  26. ^ "51% rejeitam aborto de fetos com microcefalia causada por zika - 29/02/2016 - Opinião Pública - Datafolha". datafolha.folha.uol.com.br. 29 February 2016. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  28. ^ "86,5% dos brasileiros são contra a legalização do aborto". R7.com (in Brazilian Portuguese). 2017-12-04. Archived from the original on 2018-07-22. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  29. ^ "A pesquisa Ibope sobre o grau de conservadorismo no Brasil - O Cafezinho". O Cafezinho (in Brazilian Portuguese). 2018-04-25. Retrieved 2018-08-25.
  30. ^ "41% dos brasileiros são contra qualquer tipo de aborto, diz Datafolha". G1 (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved 2021-10-07.
  31. ^ a b "Mais da metade da nova Câmara quer manter atual legislação sobre aborto". Política (in Brazilian Portuguese). 2015-01-31. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  32. ^ "58% da população rejeita liberação da prática do aborto, mostra PoderData - 08/01/2021 - Site - Poder360". www.poder360.com.br/. Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  33. ^ null. "79% dos brasileiros são contrários à legalização do aborto, aponta pesquisa". Gazeta do Povo (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved 2021-10-07.
  34. ^ "8 a cada 10 brasileiros são contra a legalização do aborto, mostra pesquisa". Poder360 (in Brazilian Portuguese). 2021-01-25. Retrieved 2021-10-07.
  35. ^ "Pesquisa revela que 79% dos brasileiros são contra a legalização do aborto". Diário do Poder (in Brazilian Portuguese). 2021-01-25. Retrieved 2021-10-07.
  36. ^ "Social Attitudes on Moral Issues in Latin America". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 2014-11-13. Retrieved 2021-10-07.
  37. ^ Santamariña, Daniela; Shin, Youjin; Westfall, Sammy; Mellen, Ruby. "How abortion laws in the U.S. compare to those in other countries". Washington Post. Retrieved 2021-10-07.
  38. ^ Brazil attacks church opposition to girl's abortion Stuart Grudgings, Reuters. Retrieved 2010-4-13.
  39. ^ Nunes Leal, Luciana (13 March 2009). "CNBB desautoriza iniciativa de bispo". O Estadão de S.Paulo. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014.
  40. ^ "Excommunicated doctor hailed for abortion on child rape victim". CNN. March 11, 2009.
  41. ^ Fisichella, Rino (2009-03-15). "Dalla parte della bambina brasiliana". L'Osservatore Romano (in Italian). Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  42. ^ Goldman, Lisa A; García, Sandra G; Díaz, Juan; Yam, Eileen A (2005-11-15). "Brazilian obstetrician-gynecologists and abortion: a survey of knowledge, opinions and practices". Reproductive Health. 2: 10. doi:10.1186/1742-4755-2-10. PMC 1308861. PMID 16288647.
  43. ^ Langlois, Jill (April 14, 2012). "Abortion ban lifted in Brazil for fetuses with severe brain damage". Global Post.