Brazil’s Supreme Court start debates over abortion laws

. Aug 03, 2018
International Women's Day In Brazil abortions abortion laws Feminists hold a major unified on March 8 asking for abortion rights

Two and a half months ago, Brazil watched as neighbors Argentina passed a law to decriminalize abortions, still pending a Senate vote. Latin America’s biggest country could soon follow the same path, as on August 3 the Supreme Court begins a series of debates on whether or not abortions should be made legal within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Anti-abortion and pro-choice movements have been invited by the country’s highest court to make their cases and try to convince the 11 Justices.

The debates (which will be broadcast live on YouTube) are the first step before the Supreme Court analyzes a lawsuit filed by the Socialism and Liberty Party – which has women’s issues as one of the core points of its agenda. “I’m very optimistic. The space given by the Supreme Court now is the most important opportunity we have to hold an honest debate, to break the taboo in our society,” lawyer Luciana Boiteux told The Brazilian Report before the hearing.

</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the Supreme Court has already ruled on specific cases regarding abortions, this is the first time that the subject will be dealt with in a broader manner. Women remain subjected to a 1942 legal framework on abortions. “Back then, women were as independent as children. They were either subjected to their parents or their husbands,” says Ms. Boiteux. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The plaintiff&#8217;s case argues that restrictions to abortions rights are contradictory to the principles of the 1988 Constitution, as it harms women&#8217;s rights to life, liberty, physical and psychological integrity, family planning, and gender equality. The fact that thousands of women die after botched homemade abortions would also go against their right to be protected from torture.</span></p> <h2>Abortions in numbers</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There were roughly </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">503,000 abortions in Brazil in 2015</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, according to a study published by Debora Diniz, a researcher at pro-choice bioethics institute Anis. Ms. Diniz will be one of the experts arguing before the Supreme Court. An estimated 8.7 million women in Brazil have already had at least one abortion, according to the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In most cases, however, these procedures were illegal, as the right to abort pregnancies only applies in three cases: rape, a risk to the mother&#8217;s life, and when the fetus has anencephaly. In all other cases, women face three years in prison. Still, most abortions happen in clandestine clinics &#8211; or when women find a solution themselves. Data from the Ministry of Health shows that </span><a href=",diariamente-4-mulheres-morrem-nos-hospitais-por-complicacoes-do-aborto,10000095281"><span style="font-weight: 400;">1,664 women have died due to complications</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> of poorly-performed procedures in that same year. Every day, four such deaths are recorded.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Still, the truth is that Brazil refuses to see abortion as being a public health issue, rather framing it as a moral matter. Opinion polls show that </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">57 percent of Brazilians believe that women who perform abortions outside of the currently permitted cases should go to jail</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. While that number is the lowest ever, it remains very high.</span></p> <h2>The argument against new abortion laws</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One of the most prominent voices is Lenise Garcia, leader of the Brazil Without Abortion Movement, and a P.h.D in Microbiology. She calls the decision to take the matter to the Supreme Court &#8211; bypassing Congress &#8211; as &#8220;deeply undemocratic.&#8221; In an interview with </span><b>HuffPost Brazil</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">, Ms. Garcia highlighted that the pro-choice movement wasn&#8217;t able to advance its agenda in Congress.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“What happened in Ireland and Argentina are setbacks, in my opinion. But at least there was a referendum in Ireland and a congressional vote in Argentina. These are democratic ways to discuss the topic.” She thinks Brazilian lawmakers are constantly debating on the issue, and that Congress is the right venue for this discussion.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Congress, however, is dominated by conservative groups. Earlier this year, a House committee approved a bill banning abortions even in rape cases. Lawmakers invited seven experts to speak, and they were all against legalizing abortions. Not what you would consider a fair and balanced debate.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Now, at the Supreme Court, both sides will have their say.

Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.

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