Criminalization of Abortion and Consequences for Public Health

Article`s category: Short Articles related to Standing Committee sections – Standing Committee on Reproductive Health including HIV/AIDS (SCORA)

Authors` information: 

  1. Complete name: Adriely Lais de Souza Pereira


University: Universidade do Estado do Amazonas

E-mail (corresponding author): [email protected]

  1. Complete name: Stephany Caroline Menezes da Silva


University: Universidade do Estado do Amazonas

Conflicts of Interest: the authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


The introduction of new approaches to reception and care for abortion was a consequence of the Conference on Population and Development (1994) 1 and on Women (1995) 2, that support sexual and reproductive rights as human rights. Since the end of the 19th century, women have mobilized worldwide in the fight for civil, political and social rights. After the conquest of contraceptives, the rate of unwanted pregnancy and abortion decreased significantly. However, it is still not possible to exclude the provision of necessary care for abortion in health centers 3,4.

This research intends to bring a narrative review about unsafe abortion around the world, its legal issues in a country that criminalizes it and, in addition, expose the profile, level of knowledge and practices of women who have gone through this process. Besides contributing as a theoretical basis for activities on this theme, it can assist in the search for more adequate contraceptive policies by knowing the circumstances in which the unwanted pregnancy happened and the reality of the pregnant women.

It is observed that about 97% of unsafe abortion cases occur in developing countries 3,5. This termination of pregnancy until the 20th or 22nd week, with the fetus weighing 500g (17,637 oz) or less, comprises techniques such as insertion of objects in the uterus, dilation and curettage performed by unqualified professionals, ingestion of homemade preparations and even mechanical trauma (beating the woman causing expulsion of the fetus). Incorrect doses of abortive medications can have serious consequences 3

The reduction of unwanted pregnancies, abortion and its consequences should be priorities for health professionals 5. Despite the guidelines regarding the necessary care and humanization, women (especially those who have undergone abortion) are still part of the neglected patient group in relation to the precaution of promoting reproductive health 6

The Brazilian Penal Code criminalizes abortion, except in life-threatening cases of pregnant women or rape 7. In contrast, there are records that one in five women of reproductive age has already had an abortion in Brazil. Most of them are women with low education, black, brown or indigenous, with low income and one to three live children 8, 9, 10. This profile exposes inequality in a country where, although rich and poor share the same laws, a minority can afford the costs of safe abortion, while a less-favored population becomes maternal death statistics 3,5.

When the particularities (socioeconomic, cultural and psychological) of a sample are understood, different strategies can be developed to better meet their needs, such as more effective conducts for contraception, reducing unwanted pregnancies. It is expected that this work promotes greater reflection on the theme, corroborating the promotion of “Maternal Health and Access to Safe Abortion”, already addressed by the IFMSA, and with the United Nations’ goal of sustainable development, “ensuring a healthy life and promoting well-being for all, at all ages”, being maternal health a specific item of this.


  1. United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. “Relatório da Conferência Internacional sobre População e Desenvolvimento (Conferência do Cairo, 1994)”. Last modified Jan 7, 2007.
  1. United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. “Declaração e Plataforma de Ação da IV Conferência Mundial Sobre a Mulher (Pequim, 1995)”. Last modified 1995.
  1. World Health Organization (WHO). Abortamento seguro: orientação técnica e de políticas para sistemas de saúde – 2ª ed. Last modified 2013.
  1. Pedro, Joana Maria. (2003). A experiência com contraceptivos no Brasil: uma questão de geração. Revista Brasileira de História, 23(45), 239-260.
  1. MINISTÉRIO DA SAÚDE. Atenção Humanizada ao Abortamento: norma técnica,2005.
  1. In Dale Huntington & Nancy Piet‐Pelon. Postabortion Care: Lessons from Operations Research. New York: Population Council, 1999.
  1. CÓDIGO PENAL BRASILEIRO. Decreto-Lei nº 2848/40, de 7 de dezembro de 1940. 
  1. Diniz, Debora, Medeiros, Marcelo, & Madeiro, Alberto. (2017). Pesquisa Nacional de Aborto 2016. Ciência & Saúde Coletiva, 22(2), 653-660.
  1. Nunes, Maria das Dores, Madeiro, Alberto, & Diniz, Debora. (2013). Histórias de aborto provocado entre adolescentes em Teresina, Piauí, Brasil. Ciência & Saúde Coletiva, 18(8), 2311-2318.
  1. Ramos, Karla da Silva, Ferreira, Ana Laura Carneiro Gomes, & Souza, Ariani Impieri de. (2010). Mulheres hospitalizadas por abortamento em uma Maternidade Escola na Cidade do Recife, Brasil. Revista da Escola de Enfermagem da USP, 44(3), 605-610.
  1. Ferreira, T.P., & Costa, C.T. (2017). Saúde e redes vivas de cuidado integral na atenção básica: articulando ações estratégicas no território/Health and networks live of primary care: articulating strategic actions in the territory. Revista Interinstitucional Brasileira de Terapia Ocupacional, 1(3), 269-281.

Enquire now

Give us a call or fill in the form below and we will contact you. We endeavor to answer all inquiries within 24 hours on business days.