A bill that would have legalized abortion in Brazil was voted down by a committee in the lower house of Congress on Wednesday and is now effectively off the table, after being hung up in Congress for 17 years. The bill had support from some legislators but was a hard sell in a country with the largest baptized Roman Catholic population in the world. Eduardo Cunha, leader of the Justice and Constitution Committee in the Chamber of Deputies, which voted 57-4 against the bill, said simply, "This bill won't prosper in the Chamber."
Thus Brazil remains on the list of more than 70 countries with restrictions on abortion, where, as the BBC reports today, pregnant women are increasingly turning to Web sites like Women on Web for help. Women on Web will send abortifacient drugs to women less than nine weeks pregnant in countries "where abortion is heavily restricted" -- also providing proper instructions, paperwork signed by a doctor and e-mail support. Audrey Simpson, director of the Family Planning Association of Northern Ireland, calls the site "very helpful and reputable" -- while being careful to add that her organization doesn't encourage breaking Irish law.
Unfortunately, at-home abortions are not without risks, even when they don't involve the proverbial rusty coat hanger. Besides Women on Web, there are rogue sites out there, sending "unmarked bottles with no instructions or paperwork," according to one woman who eventually used WoW. "There are potentially serious medical complications for women from sites which aren't well managed and this could be the new era of backstreet abortions," says Simpson. And the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology recently published a survey that found even among Women on Web clients, almost 11 percent had required a surgical follow-up.
Compared with the statistics on old-fashioned illegal abortions, though, an 11 percent complication rate is actually quite low. In Brazil alone, almost 200,000 women annually end up hospitalized after botched attempts, and Women on Web points out that every seven minutes, a woman somewhere dies following an illegal procedure. Given the lack of safe alternatives for women in countries where abortion is restricted, drugs purchased from a reputable site seem to be the best option of a tragically poor lot.