Abortion in Brazil

There are only three legal instances of abortion in Brazil: rape, imminent danger to the pregnant person and a severe birth defect. 1 out of 5 Brazilian women have undergone at least one abortion by the age of 40.
Did you know that abortion in Brazil?

According to Brazil’s 2016 National Abortion Survey, abortion is a common practice, and the method most frequently used to perform an abortion is Misoprostol, a medicine the World Health Organization recommended for safe abortions. Although hospitalization is sometimes necessary to complete the abortion, this figure is decreasing, suggesting that, despite legal restrictions and repression, women are increasingly using safer methods to have an abortion.

Law & Regulation

The abortion law in Brazil

Inducing an abortion on oneself or consenting to it by another: Penalty – detention, from one to three years.

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

Induced abortion in Brazil is still regulated as a crime, with penalties of 1 to 3 years of imprisonment for the pregnant woman and 1 to 4 years for the doctor or any other person who performs the fetus removal procedure on someone else. In fact, the regulation states that there is a minimum of one year of detention to be expected when performing an abortion. The law has been in use since 19401 and can be found in the Penal Code, specifically in Art. 124 of 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
Imminent danger to the pregnant woman’s life
Under circumstances of anencephaly

Decreto Lei n° 2.848 de 07 Dezembro de 1940: Artigo 124-127

Although abortion is legal with three exceptions, information by the Brazilian feminist magazine AzMina from October 2020 indicates that various hospitals stopped providing the service of abortion.

Services available for abortion in Brazil in October 2020.

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. Access to this right is not always guaranteed.

Facts & Numbers

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. The number of people seeking medical care for abortion-related complications is considerably more significant than those obtaining abortion services.

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 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

*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.

The public opinion

What Brazilians believe about abortion

According to a survey released by IPEC in September 2022, most respondents oppose abortion, with the opposition composed primarily of evangelicals, elementary school graduates, and Midwestern residents.

However, a sizable portion of the population favours abortion rights, predominantly between the ages of 16 and 24, the college-educated, and people with no religion or who are not evangelical or Catholic.

Abortion seekers

Who are the people who have requested legal abortions?

An independent study by Debora Diniz and Marcelo Madeiro provides demographic data on women who have requested legal abortions. During 2013 and 2015, they analysed 1,283 medical records of women who had legal abortions at five services in five regions of the country. Providing an estimate of the number and the demographic profile of abortion seekers in the country2 [7].

In that study, the methodology was based on the report provided by the public health service. 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].

An essential finding of the study run by Diniz and Madeiros (one of the studies with the highest comprehension of demographic characteristics of abortion seekers in Brazil) was that most 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 twice the number of unsafe abortions as white women.

Greice Menezes, in the Brazilian magazine Azmina, explained that black women are underrepresented regarding access to legal abortion due to problems related to institutional racism [9].

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

Abortion Methods

How to abort in Brazil

Legal Methods available

Abortion with Misoprostol

Misoprostol is a registered medication in Brazil, and it is used for legal abortion, induction of labor with the live fetus, and induction of a 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 to interrupt pregnancies until 14 weeks legally.

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].

Cultural context

How does the cultural environment affect access to abortion in Brazil? 

There is a determining relationship between abortion and cultural conditions in Brazil. Women live in a state of socioeconomic inequality that translates into factors such as less access to education, decent housing, and contraceptive methods, among others. In addition, structural racism, which places black women under greater vulnerability, makes the situation even worse. In this way, cultural, social, and economic conditions lead to a lack of access to the public health system, generating more significant risks of unsafe abortion4.

Impact of COVID-19

How the Corona pandemic influenced abortions in Brazil

During the 2020 period of the pandemic, the abortion law in Brazil remained strict under penal code regulations.

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 as of April 2021, 15 women terminated their pregnancies using their services5. However, in contrast to reports of sexual violence, this number appears to be considerably low.

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 (non-governmental organizations). However, to draw a complete picture of the abortion situation in Brazil, studies would require answering the following questions.

How many unsafe abortions are done in the country?
How many abortions are done in rural areas?
How many people travel to get an abortion?
How many queer people get abortions?
How many people have complete abortions with pills?

Sources

Sources

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

[2]

[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]

[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 https://azmina.com.br/reportagens/precisamos-falar-de-aborto-e-como-ele-mata-mulheres-negras/ Jan, 28 2022.

[10] Key Facts on Abortion, n.d. . Amnesty https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/abortion-facts/  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.

[15]

  1. 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. ↩︎
  2. 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 ↩︎
  3. 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 ↩︎
  4. Fusco, C. L., & Andreoni, S. (2012). Unsafe abortion: social determinants and health inequities in a vulnerable population in São Paulo, Brazil. Cadernos de Saúde Pública, 28, 709-719. ↩︎
  5. Acento (2021) El aborto legal por telemedicina se abre paso en Brasil. Acento https://acento.com.do/actualidad/el-aborto-legal-por-telemedicina-se-abre-paso-en-brasil-8938183.html Jan, 28 2022. ↩︎

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