By Thais Moraes
Friday, September 16, 2011
Brazil is on track to improve its maternal health statistics by 2015, one of the Millennium Development Goals. But the widespread problem of unsafe abortion, which affects a million women each year, stands in the way.
Even some legal abortions are unsafe because of a lack of public services in many cities in Brazil, Marques says.
He says that unsafe abortions, whether legal or illegal, carry various risks, such as infections, hemorrhages, uterine perforations and uterine adhesions. All of these conditions can affect women's sexual and reproductive health in the future and even lead to death, he adds.
Because of the risks involved, Marques says that health workers must be careful about the influence they can have on women's decisions regarding abortion.
"The team of health workers must not, in any way, try to influence the patient with their personal beliefs," he says. "The team should inform the woman about all alternatives, motivating her to reflect on her health and reproductive rights for a more [conscientious] and informed decision."
Benita Spinelli, coordinator of the women's division of the Recife Health Department, says that abortion safety has more to do with socioeconomics than legality.
"The difference," she says, "is that wealthy women can afford a safe abortion in clean clinics – legally or not – whereas poor women, who are the majority of the female population in Brazil, undergo abortions in places with no adequate medical care, resulting in serious damage to their health."
Research by Ipas Brazil backs her claims. It found high maternal mortality rates from unsafe abortions in northern and northeastern Brazil, the country's poorer regions.
Black women in Brazil are also three times more vulnerable to death from unsafe abortion than white women, which the report attributes to socioeconomic inequalities.
Paula Viana is a coordinator for the Curumim Group, a leading reproductive rights advocacy organization in Recife. After identifying a push by Recife lawmakers to criminalize women who have abortions, the group created a public petition and has garnered support from citizens to pressure politicians to change their position toward abortion laws.
The Curumim Group also runs a program called Humanization of Comprehensive Care to Women's Health, which aims to prepare health workers for the treatment and referral of pregnant women, including for legal abortion services. The program has already trained more than 3,000 professionals in the state of Pernambuco and nationwide, including 30 percent of the health workers in Recife.
Viana says that the feminist movement has fought since 1940 for policies that enable pregnant women who were raped or whose pregnancy could endanger their lives or their babies' lives to have abortions, as the Brazilian Penal Code allows. She says her organization aims to extend these rights to all women.
"We fight for this reality to be expanded to all women, which should avoid not only the negligence with which many women are treated at hospitals when they need to have an abortion, but mainly the stigma that surrounds abortion itself, which many times transform health professionals in[to] inhumane and even cruel individuals," she says.
Leila Adesse, one of the founders of Ipas Brazil, agrees.
"Instead of being discriminated against and put in jail, the women who have abortions need psychological support, medical care and a more efficient coverage of contraceptive methods," she says in an e-mail interview.
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Thais Moraes reports for Global Press Institute's Brazil News Desk. Based in Recife, Brazil, she focuses on human rights issues.
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