Abortion in Brazil

Brazil is with its population of 212 million people one of the biggest countries in the world. Here, 1 out of 5 women has undergone at least one abortion by the age of 40. Almost half of these abortions (48 %) end up in hospital.
Did You know that in Brazil…
46 percent of all abortions were done with Misoprostol
48% of all women with an abortion ended up in hospital
770 people died with abortion as the underlying cause between 2006 and 2015
1 out of 5 women has undergone at least one abortion by the age of 40

Abortion Facts & Numbers of Brazil

How many abortions are done in Brazil?

During the first semester of 2020, only 1,024 legal abortions were registered at the SUS (Public Health Care System)In the same period, SUS attended 80,900 cases of complications following unsafe abortions, according to news agency G1. It is evident that the number of people seeking medical care for abortion-related complications is considerably greater than the number of people obtaining abortion services. 

In the first semester of 2020,there were 1024 abortions conducted within the legal systemthere were 80900 emergencies due to post-abortion complications
in Brazil

 There is not enough data available to determine how many abortions are performed in Brazil per year; however, it is possible to estimate that one out of every five Brazilian women living in urban areas has had an abortion. Research conducted by scholars has revealed that abortion is a common experience in the reproductive lives of women and girls, even if this practice is restricted. While legal barriers do not affect the decision to have an abortion, the data shows how they affect the access of black and indigenous women to legal and safe abortions.

There is no data on unsafe abortion in the Brazilian information health systems. The official databases do not enable estimates of the number of abortions that occur in Brazil. The available data are restricted to deaths from abortion and hospitalizations due to complications from abortion in the public health system.”

B. B. Cardoso, F. M. S. B. Vieira and V. Saraceni

How does the Brazilian population feel about abortion?

What Brazilians believe

Based on a survey conducted by IPEC and released on 13/09/2022, 70% of the sampled population opposes the legalization of abortion in Brazil; 8% are neither against nor in favor, and 20% are in favor.

There has been an increase in the number of people opposed to legalization among evangelicals (84%), those who have only completed primary school (80%), and those who live in the Midwest region of the Country (77%). In contrast, anti-abortion positions have declined among voters between the ages of 16 and 24, among those with a higher education (57%) and among those who do not belong to a religious denomination (52%). Despite a reduction in the number of people who oppose legalizing abortion, the numbers are still considerable.

Another survey conducted by Datafolha and Raps indicated that 41.8% of respondents opposed abortion in all circumstances. According to the survey, only 36.2% of the population disagrees with this statement.

Who are the women who have requested legal abortions?

An independent study conducted by Debora Diniz and Marcelo Madeiro provides demographic data on women who have requested legal abortions. During 2013 and 2015, they analyzed 1,283 medical records of women who had legal abortions at five services in five different regions of the country. Providing an estimate of the number and the demographic profile of abortion seekers in the country [7].

In that study, the methodology was based on the report provided by the public health service. In order to continue understanding who is seeking and accessing legal abortion services, it is imperative to maintain up-to-date data and a complete registered [7].

The study run by Diniz and Madeiros is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Brazil, from understanding the type of services to identifying the demographic characteristics of abortion seekers.

An important finding of this study was that the majority of women who have access to legal abortion services are white. Nevertheless, according to information provided by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica, black women have the double number of unsafe abortions as white women. Greice Menezes, in the Brazilian magazine Azmina, explained that black women are underrepresented in the access to legal abortion as a result of challenges related to institutional racism [9].

In addition, Diniz’s and Mandeiros’ study found that a significant number of girls under 14 years of age sought abortion services. In Brazil, child sexual violence is an significant issue, and it is important to emphasize the right of the girls to access legal services as well as the need for a response from the state to safeguard their lives.

What are the abortion services available in Brazil?

Abortion Methods

Legal Methods available
Other Methods

Abortion with Misoprostol

Misoprostol is a registered medication in Brazil, and it is used for legal abortion, for induction of labour with the live fetus, and induction of dead or retained fetus.

Telemedicine, COVID-19 and sexual violence

In Brazil, telemedicine abortion is offereed by the Núcleo de Atenção Integral a Vítimas de Agressão Sexual (Nuavidas) in the Hospital de Clínicas in Uberlândia.

Manual Vacuum Aspiration

Manual Vacuum Aspiration is available in medical centers for legal interruption of pregnancies until 14 weeks.

Electric Vacuum Aspiration

Electrical Vacuum Aspiration is available in some parts of the country. Records state that 3% of legal abortions were performed with this method [5].

Legal restrictions surrounding abortion create barriers to access to safe abortion methods. In Brazil, people who require an abortion are forced to seek private clinics that offer the service clandestinely, buy Mifepristone and/or Misoprostol clandestinely, or use traditional folk methods that are not recognized by the WHO.

Self-Manage of Misoprostol vaginally and orally

According to the National Survey of Abortion 2016, 48% of the interviewed women use Misoprostol. The most common method was the use of Cytotec, 4 pills, and ending up the process in the clinic [5].

The case of Fortaleza

It was reported in a study conducted in Fortaleza, Brazil, that between 1st October 1992 and 30th September 1993, 4.359 patients were treated for abortion-related conditions. Based on this study, it was revealed that 66% of women used Misoprostol as an abortion inducer, and the majority were young women [12].

Telemedicine and abortion with pills

Telemedicine has shown to be an effective and safe way to have abortions with Misoprostol, and with Mifepristone and Misoprostol [2]. Some international organizations offer these services to women that live in restrictive settings, such as Brazil. In 2015, approximately 416,000 women had an abortion 48% of the cases women had abortions with pills, Misoprostol [6].

Telemedicine by Women on Web

The website Women on Web, which offers services of telemedicine worldwide, has published on its website 1.086 stories of Brazilian women who have done a safe abortion with pills.

Travel to access an abortion

Abortion seekers were forced to travel to access the services due to legal restrictions and a lack of health care providers. According to the research conducted by Azmina and Gênero e Número, 13 states do not have a clinic that offers legal abortions, causing many women to travel to the nearest city to obtain abortion services.

There is a need for more detailed research to understand the experience of traveling for abortions. For those seeking abortions, it is essential to study the logistical barriers, the cost, and the emotional burden that this experience represents.

Milhas Pela Vida das Mulheres
Travel for an abortion by Milhas Pela Vida das Mulheres

Milhas Pela Vidas Mulheres is a non-profit organization that provides information and financial assistance to women seeking abortion services. They work to ensure access to safe abortion for the more vulnerable women, thus, black and peripheral women are privileged to receive their support. Their help could be information and financial assistance to travel to another city inside Brazil to access the services or, in some cases, travel abroad of the country to access abortion services.

According to this organisation, 70% of the women who require abortions services are not aware that they have the right to access the legal service as their situations are contemplated within the legal exceptions.

Despite the fact that traveling to abortion is not a new practice in Brazil [13], their data indicates that traveling is an effective alternative to unsafe abortion methods. However, it is an alternative that involves risks, expenses, emotional burden, stigma, shame, time consumed, and familiar negotiations [14]. Furthermore, not all individuals are able to afford this alternative or can afford to take a few days off to travel. 

How the pandemia influenced the abortion in Brazil

Impact of COVID-19

According to a report by the Brazilian Feminist Magazines Azmina and Gênero e Número, during the 2020 period of the pandemic, only 42 hospitals in the country offered abortion services. Since 45% of the hospitals that offered the service before the pandemic suspended the services due to the sanitary emergency.

In Brazil, telemedicine abortion is being practised as a solution to isolation and lockdown in cases of sexual violence. The program was initiated by the Núcleo de Atenção Integral a Vítimas de Agressão Sexual (Nuavidas) in the Hospital de Clínicas in Uberlândia.

The services reported that up to April 2021, 15 women [1] had interrupted their pregnancies using their services. In contrast with sexual violence reports, however, this number appears to be quite low.

Law & Regulation

The abortion law in Brazil

Provocar aborto em si mesma ou consentir que outrem lho provoque: Pena – detenção, de um a três anos.

CP – Decreto Lei n° 2.848 de 07 Dezembro de 1940: Artigo 124

Induced abortion is still regulated as a crime in the Penal Code since 1940 [11] and it has a minimum of one year of detention according to the Art 124 of the Law N 2.848.

There are only three cases in which a person can get access to abortion services without being punished (art. 124-127).

  • Rape-caused pregnancy – The person does not need to report to the police
  • Imminent danger to the pregnant woman’s life. – A doctor needs to testify this cause
  • Under circumstances of anencephaly – A doctor needs to testify this cause

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 fetus removal procedure on someone else.

Decreto Lei n° 2.848 de 07 Dezembro de 1940: Artigo 124

Although abortion is legal in three exceptions, information from October 2020 indicates that only 31 cities in Brazil have legal abortion services. As a result, 13 states, including the federal district, did not have hospitals that covered the abortion services foreseen in the law. However, according to the SUS’s Norma Técnica: Humanized Abortion, it is the State’s responsibility to provide abortion services in public hospitals, within the legal exceptions. 

What we don’t know

The Brazilian Data Gap

Although the SUS collects general data about abortion within the health system, much important information is only delivered thanks to NGOs. However, to draw a complete picture about the abortion situation in Brazil, studies would require to answer the following questions.

How many unsafe abortions are done in the country?
How many abortions are done in rural areas?
How many queer people are having abortions?
How many people have complete abortions with pills?
How many people is travelling to have abortions?

*This page presents abortion data only for women and girls, since the information available is usually not separated by gender. However, AbortionData.org acknowledges this limitation.

Sources

Sources & Partners

[1] Acento (2021) El aborto legal por telemedicina se abre paso en Brasil. Acento [Online] https://acento.com.do/actualidad/el-aborto-legal-por-telemedicina-se-abre-paso-en-brasil-8938183.html [Accessed] Jan, 28 2022.

[2] Aiken, A., Lohr, P. A., Lord, J., Ghosh, N., & Starling, J. (2021). Effectiveness, safety and acceptability of no-test medical abortion (termination of pregnancy) provided via telemedicine: a national cohort study. BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology128(9), 1464–1474. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-0528.16668

[3] CLACAI (2017) Mifepristona y misoprostol en seis paises de America Latina.

[4] Departamento de Saúde Comunitária, Universidade Federal do Ceará. Fortaleza, CE – Brasil (W.F., L.L.C.); Maternal and Child Epidemiology Unit. London School of Higiene and Tropical Medicine, UK (C.M.); Hospital Geral César Cals. Fortaleza, CE – Brasil (J.A.M.P.); Maternidade Escola Assis Chateaubriand da Universidade Federal do Ceará. Fortaleza, CE – Brasil.

[5] Diniz, D., Medeiros, M. (2012) Itineraries and methods of illegal abortion in five Brazilian state capitals Ciência & Saúde Coletiva, 17(7):1671-1681.

[6] Diniz, D., Medeiros, M., Madeiro, A., Universidade de Brasília,  Brasil, Universidade de Brasília,  Brasil, Universidade Estadual do Piauí,  Brasil, 2017. Pesquisa Nacional de Aborto 2016. Ciênc. Saúde Coletiva 22, 653–660. https://doi.org/10.1590/1413-81232017222.23812016

[7] Madeiro, A.P., Diniz, D., 2016. Serviços de aborto legal no Brasil – um estudo nacional. Ciênc. Saúde Coletiva 21, 563–572. https://doi.org/10.1590/1413-81232015212.10352015

[8] Freitas, J. E. P. D., 2020. Abortion Is A Fundamental Right—Brazil Is Failing To Fully Recognise It. Human Rights Pulse, 19 Septiembre.

[9] Folego, T. (2017) “Criminalização do aborto mata mais mulheres negras”. Revista Azmina [Online]https://azmina.com.br/reportagens/precisamos-falar-de-aborto-e-como-ele-mata-mulheres-negras/ [Accessed] Jan, 28 2022.

[10] Key Facts on Abortion [WWW Document], n.d. . Amnesty Int. URL https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/abortion-facts/ [Accessed] Jan, 28 2022.

[11] Hardy, E., & Rebello, I. (1996). La discusión sobre el aborto provocado en el Congreso Nacional Brasileño: el papel del movimiento de mujeres. Cadernos de Saúde Pública12, 259-266.

[12] Fonseca, W., Misago, C., Correia, L. L., Parente, J. A., & Oliveira, F. C. (1996). Determinantes do aborto provocado entre mulheres admitidas em hospitais em localidade da região Nordeste do Brasil. Revista de Saúde Pública, 30(1), 13-18.

[13] Sethna, C., & Davis, G. (Eds.). (2019). Abortion across borders: Transnational travel and access to abortion services. JHU Press.

[14] Murray, L., & Khan, N. (2020). The im/mobilities of ‘sometimes-migrating’for abortion: Ireland to Great Britain. Mobilities15(2), 161-172.

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