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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
Brazil to subsidise contraception
By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

The Brazilian president greets Pope Benedict at Sao Paulo airport
Pope Benedict spoke out against abortion during his visit
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has introduced a $51m (26m) plan to subsidise birth control pills in Latin America's largest country.

He said the programme would give the poor the same right as the wealthy to have the number of children they want.

The initiative comes just two weeks after Pope Benedict's visit to Brazil, when he urged Catholics to maintain traditional family values.

Brazil already tackles Aids and other STDs by handing out free condoms.

Birth control pills are also sometimes available for free at government-run clinics.

Strained ties

However, many poor people do not take advantage of this scheme so now the pills will be made available at more than 3,500 private drug stores at significantly reduced prices.

The government is also planning to increase the number of free vasectomies performed at state hospitals.

Anti-abortion activists protest in Brasilia ahead of the Pope's visit
There have been calls for a wider debate on abortion in Brazil

When the $51m programme is fully operational, millions of packages of birth control pills could be handed out each year.

The plan will mean that a supply of pills lasting a month could be purchased for around 20 US cents.

The new proposals will not help the already strained relations between the government and the Catholic Church, which believes that official sexual health programmes in Brazil are encouraging promiscuity.

But the move has been welcomed by women's groups who say they hope it could help to reduce the 800,000 illegal abortions that Brazilian women have each year.

Abortion is only legal in very limited circumstances in Brazil and the health minister has recently suggested there should be a wider debate on the issue - another point of tension with the Catholic Church.


SEE ALSO
Brazil to break Aids drug patent
04 May 07 |  Americas
Pope presses Brazil on abortion
10 May 07 |  Americas
Call for Brazil abortion debate
09 Apr 07 |  Americas
Catholic Church tested in Brazil
09 May 07 |  Americas
Country profile: Brazil
07 Feb 07 |  Country profiles

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