Brazil’s Supreme Court is holding two public hearings on the decriminalization of abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The first public hearing took place Friday and a second is scheduled for Monday.
In the South American country abortions are only legal when pregnancy is the result of rape, when the mother’s life is endangered and when the fetus shows a malformation in its nervous system. Although limited, evangelical politicians in Congress seek to restrict it even further by making it illegal for a woman who was raped to undergo an abortion.
The public hearings, where health experts, NGOs, academics and religious organizations will present their arguments for and against, were summoned by judge Rosa Weber after the Socialism and Freedom Party and the Bioethics Institute presented a legal recourse requesting the voluntary interruption of pregnancies before the 12th week no longer be considered a crime, currently punishable with up to three years in prison.
During Friday’s hearing, Maria de Fatima of the health ministry highlighted that despite the prohibition, one in every five women have had an abortion in Brazil, a country where 203 women die annually due to unsafe abortions and around 250,000 are hospitalized due to complications related to unsafe, underground practices. It is estimated that between 500,000 and 1.2 million abortions are performed in Brazil every year.
As the case in Argentina, the fight for free, safe and legal abortions in Brazil is being waged within state institutions and in the street.
On Friday, at the Museum of the Republic, several feminist groups organized the Festival for the Lives of Women under the banner “neither jailed nor dead.”
After the hearings, the court will have to determine if Brazil’s abortion laws written in 1940 are at odds with constitutional protections, especially regarding the dignity of people and sexual and reproductive rights, enshrined in Brazil's 1988 Constitution.