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SAO PAULO (AP) — A woman believed to be the first in Brazil to ask the state for permission to end a pregnancy that did not result from a rape or involve medical issues has had an abortion — in Colombia.
With one request denied by the Supreme Court and fearing that another would languish in the justice system, Rebeca Mendes told The Associated Press on Monday that she decided to have the procedure done abroad so as not to be punished in Brazil.
The decision ends her involvement in a case that garnered national headlines in Latin America's most populous nation and sought to push the limits on restrictive abortion laws.
In an interview, Mendes, 30, said her decision was not just an economic one. The single mother of two boys, ages 6 and 9, said a third child would have substantially affected her family, both financially and emotionally.
"I didn't terminate this pregnancy for a kilogram of rice or a kilogram of beans," she said, noting that some who disagreed with her decision had offered financial support upon hearing her story. "I would have had to give up many dreams. I'm going to university to have a career to be able to give a better life to my two kids."
Abortion in Brazil, home to the largest population of Roman Catholics and fast-growing evangelical faiths, is legal in three cases: when a woman's life is in danger, if a woman has been raped, or when a fetus has anencephaly, a malformation of the brain.
Mendes filed her petition with the Supreme Court in late November, when she was six weeks pregnant.
Activists hoped that telling one woman's story would humanize their quest to legalize abortion. But two days after her petition was filed, the court rejected her urgent request. The court will eventually consider the larger argument, but it is unclear when that might happen.
Mendes said she was in the process of switching her birth control when she became pregnant. She said the thought of another child at this moment in her life was overwhelming. She earns about $380 a month working at the national statistics agency on a temporary contract, while also going to law school. She gets another $200 to $300 monthly from the boys' father — just enough to cover her rent of $180 and a few other expenses.
Having the abortion done in Colombia was happenstance. The Latin American Consortium against Unsafe Abortion invited her to an event last week to share her story, and while she was in Bogota a private clinic offered to perform a pro-bono abortion, which is legal in Colombia to preserve a woman's mental health.
What makes Mendes unusual is not that she was seeking an abortion, but rather that she was unwilling to go outside the law to do it, as thousands of Brazilian women do each year.
Mendes said she had read horror stories about women bleeding out at home after taking the drug misoprostol, known as cytotec in Brazil. Experts say the drug, which is highly regulated in Brazil, is generally a safe way to induce abortions in early pregnancy, although it can lead to complications.
Women's health experts estimate between 400,000 and 800,000 women have an abortion each year in Brazil — nearly all of them illegally. Besides cytotec, the ways pregnancies are terminated range from high-end clinics that quietly perform abortions for women who can afford them to more primitive means.
"I didn't want to die," Mendes said. "I would be suffering my worst fears: either to die at home and not be able to raise my children or be arrested and also not able to raise my children. There was no way out."
Sarah DiLorenzo on Twitter: twitter.com/sdilorenzo
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