Brazil’s ugly abortion reality lost in election noise

October 20, 2010

brazil abortionIt was a little-noticed headline amid the daily crime, violence and accidents in Rio de Janeiro’s rough outskirts — Adriana de Souza Queiroz, 26, dead after a clandestine abortion went wrong. Queiroz, who scraped a living handing out pamphlets and was 3 or 4 months pregnant, last month became one of the some 300 Brazilian women who die each year after back street abortions.

The issue of abortion in the world’s most populous Roman Catholic country has been thrust into the spotlight by a presidential election in which front-running candidate Dilma Rousseff has been punished by religious voters for her past support for decriminalizing the procedure.

(Photo:  An anti-abortion march in Brasilia September 10, 2008/Jamil Bittar)

Abortion rights groups have long argued the law does little to prevent abortions in Brazil and mostly hurts poor women who can’t afford safer, expensive underground clinics.

The health ministry says that about one in seven Brazilian women under 40 have had at least one abortion and about a third of all pregnancies end in the procedure. That is in line with the rest of Latin America, which has among the world’s highest abortion rates despite it being mostly illegal, and compares to about a fifth in the United States, where abortion is legal.

When President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to power in 2003, many believed Brazil’s strict abortion laws could be liberalized. But with both Rousseff of the ruling Workers’ Party and her opposition rival Jose Serra now vying ahead of the Oct. 31 runoff election to convince voters of their “respect for life” and opposition to decriminalization, any reform may now be off the agenda for years.

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