Will Brazil's Pregnancy Registration Law Reduce Maternal Mortality?

Mandy Van Deven, Online Administrator

For most women, pregnancy is a time filled with uncertainty and anticipation. For many women in Brazil, it is a time filled with fear.

According to the World Health Organization, over 4,000 women in Brazil die from pregnancy and childbirth related causes every year. This loss of life accounts for more than a quarter of maternal deaths in all of Latin America. Due to restrictive abortion laws, more than one in ten maternal deaths in Brazil can be attributed to unsafe abortion.

Although the maternal mortality rate in Brazil is decreasing, this progress is not without inequality. Rural women, indigenous women, and women who live in poverty have a harder time accessing quality sexual and reproductive health services, and therefore, are at greater risk of injury and death.

With the stated aim of meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff drafted and enacted a new law last month, Provisional Measure 557 (PM 557), which establishes a national system of registration, surveillance, and monitoring of pregnant and postpartum women. Under PM 557, every pregnant woman who enrolls is entitled to R$50 (≈ $27USD) to assist with prenatal care, and the law intends to "improved access, coverage, and quality of maternal health care, especially in high-risk pregnancies."

However, PM 557 is not being received with open arms. Some fear this new registry is a way to further restrict women who may seek an abortion. In an article for Slate, Gillian Kane of Ipas Brazil writes:

What PM 557 does is raise questions about preserving a woman’s human rights: her right to privacy, which would be violated by the compulsory government registration to control and monitor her reproductive life; her right to autonomy and dignity, which would be violated by denying her the freedom of choice; and her right to liberty, which would be completely void as she’d be legally obligated to have all the children she conceives (protecting the rights of the “unborn,” which is flagrantly unconstitutional) and will be monitored by the state for this purpose.

For more than 45 years, IPPF/WHR's Member Association, BEMFAM, has been working to improve maternal health in Brazil by expanding access to basic reproductive health care, particularly for vulnerable populations. In 2007, BEMFAM began a women’s health and maternal mortality project that has since brought together over 1,700 governmental and non-governmental allies to increase communication between government and civil society regarding maternal health. In 2009, BEMFAM launched a new initiative to strengthen joint action, especially at a local level, to advance policy changes that would benefit pregnant women.

BEMFAM provided over 7.3 million sexual and reproductive health services at 6,620 locations throughout Brazil in 2010. In poorer regions, women have a harder time accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services. That is why BEMFAM's programs are specifically designed to reach those with increased need, including indigenous people, rural populations, LGBT individuals, women experiencing gender-based violence, and youth and women who live on the street. In the world's fifth largest country, BEMFAM is hard at work fulfilling its mission to "advance the basic human right of women, men, and youth to freely and consciously determine their own sexual and reproductive health."

World Population Day: The Importance of Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights


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