Brazil Decriminalizes Abortion, Takes The First Step Towards A Pro-Choice Future

by Jen Pitt

In this winter of our discontent, an uncanny light shines from the warmer hemisphere. This Tuesday, the Brazilian Supreme Court decriminalized the use of abortion within the first trimester of pregnancy. Brazil has a strict ban on abortion except in cases of rape, anencephaly — when portions of the fetus’ brain are missing, or when the mother’s life is at risk. Though illegal, Galileu, a popular science magazine, estimates that about two thousand women get abortions everyday. More shocking is the statistic that between the years 2010 and 2016 there were only 9,469 legal abortions performed.

The case began as five underground abortion clinic workers were accused by the state of Rio De Janeiro for crimes of abortion and criminal conspiracy. The lower court judge denied this motion stating there were insufficient requirements for apprehension before a trial. The State sought the Court of Appeals, which overturned the lower court’s decision.

This prompted the defendants to file habeas corpus with the Superior Court of Justice, which was denied, and lead the defendants to take their case to the Supreme Court, which granted them habeas corpus on the grounds that the penal code does not differentiate at which specific moment during gestation abortion becomes illegal. This creates a loop hole for the Supreme Court to interpret the law through the constitution (Brazil’s had seven constitutions, the most current one was written in 1988) and defends “individual rights.”

The Brazilian news source, O Estado de Sao Paulo, quotes Justice Luis Barroso as, “Affirming that the criminalization of abortion is incompatible with various fundamental rights, such as; female sexual and reproductive rights, the physical and psychosocial integrity of the pregnant woman, the principle of equality and the autonomy of women which corresponds to the essential nucleus of individual liberty which is protected by the principle of human dignity in the Federal Constitution of 1988 (article I, III) and that, “All individuals — man or woman — have a legitimate right to privacy in which it is up to them to decide how to live by their values…the state nor society have the right to interfere.”

Baby steps are frustrating for full grown women but this is a vital and unprecedented step towards legalizing abortion. Surely, the conservative congress is bound to dispute this, but let’s not forget the victims of botched clandestine abortions are frequently lower income women who have less access to private (though still illegal) clinics.


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