Brazil woman
Brazilian women living in poverty form the majority of the 200,000 women who die every year from botched illegal abortions. REUTERS

Brazil’s medical practice supervisory council has called for the legalization of first-term abortions as the country’s legislators debate the issue in the Senate.

Under current Brazilian law, abortions are only legal in cases of rape, abnormal brain development or when the mother’s life is in danger.

The Federal Council of Medicine, or CFM, which represents some 400,000 doctors in Brazil, has come out in support of proposed reforms that would legalize abortions within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.

"The council is not in favor of abortion, but rather the empowerment of women and physicians. In this sense, medical organizations agree with the proposal still under consideration in the Congress," said CFM President Luiz Roberto d'Avila in a statement.

The CFM cited statistics that show 1 million abortions are performed illegally every year, typically under unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

"The reality of the facts shows that women are getting abortions with great inequality," d’Avila said, the Associated Press reported. "Rich women are getting them in safe conditions and the poor, completely unsafe ... with complications, losing their uteruses, losing parts of their intestines, dying. ... This inequality is unacceptable from the medical point of view."

Some 200,000 women in Brazil die every year as a result of medical complications from botched abortions, making them the fifth leading cause of death among Brazilian women, the doctor said.

The issue of abortion is highly controversial in Brazil, the world’s most populous Roman Catholic country.

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, known for its socially conservative views, has come out in opposition to the proposed reform.