Brazil's Supreme Court considers decriminalizing abortion
Brazil's highest court is debating whether to decriminalize abortions that occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Why it matters: In Brazil, Latin America's most populous country, religion runs deep, yet polling shows support for a total ban has waned. The country could follow in the footsteps of other major Latin American countries that have expanded abortion rights over the past few years.
- The most recent polls show support for prohibiting abortion in Brazil dropped from 41% in 2018 to 32% last year.
What to know: The issue is before the nation's Supreme Court through a special legal review process triggered last month by Chief Justice Rosa Weber, who retired Monday after voting to legalize abortion.
- Weber argues in a 129-page document that the criminal code provisions and precedent on abortion are unconstitutional as they violate health rights and women's autonomy.
Yes, but: It's not clear when the rest of the 10 justices will vote
- Other cases triggered through the same review mechanism, such as the recognition of same-sex unions, lingered for years before the court ruled.
- The new chief justice, Roberto Barroso, has said he might use a rule allowing him to delay a vote for at least three months while public debate on the matter continues.
Zoom in: The only exceptions to Brazil's abortion ban are cases involving a risk to the pregnant person's life, a victim of statutory rape or a fetus that has anencephaly.
- But even in those exceptional cases, women have difficulty accessing safe abortions because many doctors fear prosecution and because of the high cost of traveling to a nearby clinic, says Laura Molinari, coordinator of the group Nem Presa Nem Morta (Neither Jailed Nor Dead).
- "Most women do not have that opportunity," Molinari says.
- She adds that the country's Afro-Brazilian, Indigenous and most impoverished populations — who also have less access to reproductive planning and health services — are particularly impacted.
State of play: Brazilians who are prosecuted for having abortions face up to three years in prison, while doctors who aid them face up to four.
- It's unclear how many people have been charged or prosecuted for having an abortion because there is no national database.
- But according to a 2021 investigation by independent news outlet Catarinas, 300 people were charged from 2015 to 2019. There wasn't information on the outcome of those cases.
- The most recent national data on abortion, from a 2021 survey carried out by anthropologist Débora Diniz, found that one in seven Brazilian women 40 years or older — about 15% of all women — have had an abortion.
- More than half of them said they terminated a pregnancy when they were 19 years old or younger.
What they're saying: Reproductive rights activists say that after years of working to overturn the law, the fact that abortion is up for debate is a win.
- The debate is an opportunity to get "rid of stigmas by showing abortion is happening regardless and the impacts of it being illegal," says Carla Angelini, a university researcher in São Paulo and member of Católicas Pelo Direito de Decidir (Catholics for Choice).
- Activists say keeping up social attention and pressure on the topic will be key so the court's debate isn't paused indefinitely.
- "We can't afford to wait much longer for this matter to be voted on," Molinari says.
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