Abortion is a touchy subject in those anachronistic nations where religious groups still wield power. But I still get frustrated at how Brazil lets the Roman Catholic Church manage the debate on the subject.

That’s one of my conclusions after writing this Time magazine story about abortion.

The Church has lost so much moral credibility following recent scandals here in Brazil (and elsewhere) but lily livered and macho Brazilian politicians are afraid to question the Church’s hypocritical stance on the issue.

They claim it is a public health issue rather than a moral one but they do nothing to change that, even though 200,000 Brazilian women are hospitalized every year due to serious complications arising from backstreet abortions.

I wrote my piece after reading a recently released study that shows one-in-five Brazilian women of child-bearing age have had an abortion. This, in a nation where the procedure is illegal. See a map here showing how different nations legislate abortion.

The federal government offers everything from condoms and contraceptive pills to vasectomies — all free — in every one of the country’s 5,565 municipalities. And states are taking their own steps, as I wrote about here for the Christian Science Monitor back in 2007.

Brazil is on the way to being a modern and progressive nation. It is growing economically, reducing poverty and forging a new role in world affairs. But if it truly wants to be taken seriously it needs to do away with the antiquated and harmful policies that treat its women as criminals.