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Dr. Helena Paro, Brazil

Dr. Helena Paro, Brazil

1. Who is Helena Paro? 

Helena Paro is a gynecologist, obstetrician, researcher and professor at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU) in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. She is recognized for her work in the field of reproductive justice and is an activist for sexual rights in the Feminist Network of Gynecologists and Obstetricians. She is also the secretary of the National Specialized Commission (CNE acronym in Portuguese) of FEBRASGO on Sexual Violence and Termination of Pregnancy foreseen by the Law (2020-2023), a member of the Safe Abortion Committee of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology (FIGO) and the General Coordinator of the Center for Comprehensive Care for Victims of Sexual Assault of the Hospital of Clinics of the Federal University of Uberlândia (NUAVIDAS HCU/UFU). 


Dr. Helena Paro and the struggle for safe abortion in Brazil

2. What Happened? 

In 2020, Dr. Paro created a pioneering service that provides care to women, mostly young and in extremely vulnerable situations, for the procedure of pregnancy termination in cases of sexual violence, through telemedicine. In Brazil, legislation allows this practice when the pregnancy is the result of rape, presents a risk to the woman's life or the fetus has anencephaly.

The project designed by Helena Paro arose at one of the most critical moments of the pandemic in the country. The health crisis was already generating difficulties due to social isolation, which affected access to various treatments and care by the public and private health system. During this period, telemedicine procedures were regulated in Brazil by resolution of the Federal Council of Medicine. Dr. Paro's idea was simply to include one more legal practice in the list of medical services through remote consultations.

According to an article published by Agência Pública on 3/5, since the booklet "Legal abortion by telehealth - Guidelines for legal abortion services by telehealth for victims of sexual assault" was launched in 2021, Dr. Paro has faced retaliation and threats from several fronts. These attacks range from virtual assaults by conservative groups to lawsuits filed by the Public Ministry and the Public Defender's Office, as well as attempts to revoke her medical license through ethical and professional procedures by the Regional Council of Medicine of Minas Gerais. In addition, two councilmen have made speeches in the chamber to denounce that Dr. Paro is acting in a criminal manner, which has increased the virtual hate attacks towards her.

The procedure was carried out through an inquiry, shortly after the dissemination of the document guiding legal abortion with the help of telehealth, which clearly has an intimidating tone. Dr. Paro mentioned: "They came to the hospital where I work and teach, asked me questions and accessed more than half of the medical records of girls and women using the telemedicine service," said Paro. 

3. How does this situation affect access to health or the right to health? 

Access to legal abortion is a crucial issue for the right to health and public health in Brazil.  Although abortion is prohibited in most cases, it is a common practice among Brazilian women, especially those in vulnerable situations. According to the National Abortion Research, one in seven Brazilian women over the age of 40 has had at least one abortion in her lifetime. However, while women with economic resources can access safe procedures, poorer women run greater risks and may even endanger their lives by seeking unsafe methods to terminate their pregnancies. The debate on the legalization of abortion is hindered by ultraconservative religious currents with representation in the National Congress, which even seek to prohibit it in cases of rape. 
The pandemic has further aggravated access to legal abortion, resulting in an increase in cases of unsafe and risky procedures for pregnant women. Although the law guarantees that legal abortion must be offered through the Unified Health System (SUS, acronym in Portuguese) without the need for a police report or other records, during the period of the pandemic, only slightly more than half of the hospitals that provide legal abortion continued to provide care to women. The Center for Integral Care of Victims of Sexual Assault, coordinated by Helena Paro in Uberlândia, was one of the places that continued to provide help and guidance through face-to-face consultations or telemedicine.

4. The Campaign 

Currently, Dr. Paro has the support of two lawyers from her city, who have filed a lawsuit against the two councilors of Uberlândia for defamation and have provided support in her defense. She also has the backing of the Anis Bioethics Institute, a feminist, anti-racist and anti-capacity non-governmental organization, which fights to promote rights redress policies to guarantee a full life for all people, and which has reproductive justice as one of its main focuses. Although there are no specific campaigns in her defense, Dr. Paro has faced recurrent online hate attacks.

Video Credits and Acknowledgements 

Dr. Helena Paro and the struggle for safe abortion in Brazil

People's Health Movement
Health workers under attack Gallery
Reference: Brazil: The Helena Paro case
Title: Dr. Helena Paro and the struggle for safe abortion in Brazil
Language: Portuguese - English subtitles
Time: 00:13:27:22
Web documentary by:  Gabriela Leite Os
Camera and sound: Lucas Scatolini
Video Editing: Gabriela Leite Os and Lucas Scatolini
Production: Gabriela Leite and Rôney Rodrigues
Outras Palavras / Outra Saúde

A People's Health Movement Production

The content of this video is the sole responsibility of its authors and in no way reflects the views of the organizations that finance it.

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