Page last updated at 00:56 GMT, Friday, 21 November 2008

Brazil targets illegal abortions

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Abortion equipment
Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or risk to the mother

Brazilian police are investigating more than 1,200 women suspected of having had abortions in a clinic in the state of Mato Grosso Do Sul.

Some 150 women have been charged and at least 30 have been sentenced to do community work.

Abortion in Brazil is illegal except in cases of rape or when the life or health of the mother is at risk.

The large-scale investigation has prompted protests from human rights organisations and women's groups.

The family planning clinic at the centre of this controversy operated for more than 20 years in the Brazilian city of Campo Grande before closing in 2007.

At one point, the police were said to be considering several thousand cases of suspected abortions, but many of these fell outside the time limit permitted for legal action.

Controversial investigation

The authorities only became aware of the clinic following a television interview, which led to a police investigation that could eventually involve more than 1,200 women and some of their partners, as well as medical staff.

To gather evidence, Judge Aluizio Pereira dos Santos is said to have interviewed husbands, ex-boyfriends and relatives of some of the women accused of having abortions.


Human rights and women's organisations have complained that the process has been humiliating for those involved, and has included demands for intimate medical examinations.

At least 30 women have already been sentenced to community work in creches or schools for disabled children.

The judge was reported by the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo as saying that other women who had to work to support their children, or who helped them deal with physical or mental disability, would act as a role model for those found to have had illegal abortions.

The investigation first attracted controversy when for a period the medical records of thousands of women were made available to the public.

The judge was said to have considered this practice to be normal, but the documents were later withdrawn.

Earlier this year, the prosecutor who initiated the legal action said the issue of abortion needed to be addressed by Brazil's Congress and society, but that while the legislation was unchanged he was obliged to act.

The government has said it wants to see a debate over abortion but there is little sign that the law is about to be changed.

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