BRASILIA (Reuters) - Some 1.2 million Brazilian women have been hospitalized in the last five years with infections, vaginal bleeding and other complications resulting from illegal abortions, said a report presented by health experts on Wednesday.
Women in Brazil’s relatively poor northeast seek unsafe illegal abortions at twice the rate of women in the wealthier south, said the study, published by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, or IPPH.
Brazil prohibits abortion in most cases, but an outspoken new health minister prompted a nationwide debate several weeks ago when he said society must reconsider laws against abortion because they are hurting women.
“Legal prohibition does not eliminate the practice of abortion, everybody knows this,” said Carmem Barroso, the IPPF’s director for the western hemisphere.
The IPPF report, based on health ministry data, was released just weeks after Pope Benedict railed against contraception and abortion on a papal visit to Brazil.
The report estimated one million abortions take place in Brazil each year, including miscarriages and unsafe illegal abortions. About five women die from unsafe procedures for every 100,000 live births.
Each year some 230,000 women seek treatment from Brazil’s national health system for complications including hemorrhaging and perforation of the uterus or vaginal wall.
Black, indigenous and poorer women seek a disproportionate number of abortions, said physician Maria Jose Araujo, a member of the panel of health experts that presented the report.
The number of unsafe procedures among very young women and teens is rising, she added.
Almost 3,000 girls aged 10 to 14 ended up in the hospital with post-abortion complications in 2005, the report said. Among women from 15 to 19, over 46,000 sought treatment.
Barroso said the IPPF was in favor of developing a program to offer pregnant women information and counseling even if abortion remains illegal in Brazil.
Brazil’s health minister, Jose Temporao, renewed his pledge this week to introduce a wider debate on abortion.
“The government will get the issue rolling so women can decide,” he said Monday at a ceremony for a new family planning program that slashed prices on birth control pills and encouraged men to take advantage of Brazil’s free vasectomy service.