Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brazil offers morning-after pill to poor

Brazil‘s government has added "morning after" pills to its newly expanded birth control program in hopes of helping poor people reduce unwanted pregnancies and dangerous illegal abortions.

Speaking at a round-table discussion Monday sponsored by the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Temporao called the morning-after pill "an important tool for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies that will definitely be part of our strategy" to help Brazil‘s poor have the same access to birth control as its rich elite.

Brazil already distributes 254 million free condoms a year, many as part of an anti-AIDS program that makes a special effort just before each year‘s Carnival celebrations.

Brazil also has handed out the morning-after pill and regular contraceptives at government pharmacies for years.

Morning-after pills have high doses of the same drugs found in many regular birth-control pills, and can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

Brazil is the world‘s largest Roman Catholic nation, and the church has vehemently opposed any expansion of birth control. Brazilian Archbishop Orlando Brandes, who represents the church on this issue, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, his office said.

Women‘s rights groups estimate 800,000 illegal abortions happen in Brazil each year, and about 4,000 women die from the back-office procedures annually.

Abortions are the fourth leading cause of maternal death in Brazil after hypertension, hemorrhages and infections.

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