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Last Updated: Monday, 9 April 2007, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
Call for Brazil abortion debate
By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Abortion equipment
Many abortions take place in illegal clinics, putting women's lives at risk
The newly-appointed minister of health in Brazil has called for a wide-ranging debate on the issue of abortion.

Under present law, abortion is only permitted when the life of the mother is at risk, or in the case of rape.

The minister, Jose Gomes Temporao, said in a newspaper interview he wanted to move the issue on from religious and moral contexts to a matter of health.

But his remarks are thought certain to prompt a firm response from the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil.

'Superficial' debate

Mr Temporao says that around 200,000 women are treated for complications following abortions every year, the vast majority of them believed to have taken place in illegal clinics involving a high degree of risk for the women.

An opinion poll released at the weekend suggests 65% of Brazilians are against changing the existing law.

Mr Temporao says that result is not surprising as he believes the question has always been debated in a superficial way.

He told the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo he wants Brazil to treat the discussion as a matter of public health.

But there are already signs the minister can expect a vigorous response from the Catholic Church, which is preparing for the arrival of Pope Benedict next month.

On Friday the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Cardinal Eusebio Oscar Scheid, interrupted an Easter passion play in the city, walking on stage to tell the 10,000 strong audience that the massacre of innocents could not be allowed.

While the Brazilian government has no official position on a referendum, it seems likely that debate on the issue will increase in the months ahead.


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