Brazil’s Supreme Court held a two-day public hearing on Friday and Monday to consider decriminalizing abortion through the 12th week of pregnancy. Currently terminating pregnancies is not considered a crime in the country only in cases of rape, when the woman’s life is at risk, and in case of anencephalic fetuses.
The hearings were called by judge-rapporteur Rosa Weber and are part of an allegation initiated by the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) in 2017. The party calls the top court to consider whether two articles - according to which women who terminate a pregnancy and those who help them in the process are considered criminals - should be removed from the country’s laws.
Now the Prosecutor General of the Republic, Raquel Dodge, has ten days to form an opinion on the matter. After Dodge hands down her opinion, justice Weber will submit the case to the full court, but there are no due dates established for the full bench to deliver a final vote.
Scientific, medical, political, philosophical, and religious arguments were presented during the hearings. While those who support decriminalizing abortion evoked constitutional premises, the debate on Monday was also filled with theological thinking.
Fifty-two entities spoke at the two-day hearing, arguing in favor and against decriminalizing abortion. Eleven of them represented religious organizations.
Lusmarina Garcia, an evangelical minister who supports decriminalizing abortion, received a standing ovation after her speech. She spoke in favor of a secular State and said there are patriarchal reasons behind the arguments against decriminalizing abortion.
“For centuries patriarchalized Christianity has been responsible for punishing women and legitimizing their death,” Lusmarina said. The member of the Institute of Religious Studies added that women who have abortions are ordinary women of faith who should not be criminalized under any circumstances. “A secular State is not an atheist State, but rather a State that does not mix the concepts of crime and sin and is not guided by religious sanctions,” she pointed out.
There are data to support the Lutheran minister’s speech. According to the National Abortion Survey conducted in 2016 by the Anis Institute, 56 percent of women who had an abortion are Catholic and 25 percent are Protestant or Evangelical. Also, 67 percent of them already had children. The survey also showed that the rate of black women terminating a pregnancy is 3.5 percent higher than that of white women, which also means more black women die from unsafe abortions.
Some of the dozens of entities that took part in the hearings are the Federal Public Defender’s Office, the São Paulo State Public Defender’s Office, the National Human Rights Committee, the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, the international NGO Human Rights Watch, the Brazilian branch of the Catholics for Choice group, and the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Sciences.
Argentine Juana Magdalena Kweitel, the director of the non-governmental organization Conectas Human Rights, pointed out that the number of women who die from unsafe abortions drops after abortion is decriminalized.
Kweitel also celebrated how much the debate on the issue has progressed in her home country, Argentina. In June, the Argentine lower chamber voted to legalize abortion through the 14th week of pregnancy, after a nationwide movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of women. The country’s Senate is expected to vote on the matter next Wednesday.
“Yes, we are talking about protecting lives. The lives and freedom of those women. The most vulnerable women, because most women who die from unsafe abortion are black, young, poor women,” Kweitel pointed out.
Ana Lúcia Keunecke, a human rights lawyer and member of the Feminist Jurist Network (DeFEMde), believes the hearings had a positive outcome for women and society, because they allowed the issue to be addressed publicly.
“One in five women under 40 years old in Brazil has had an abortion. Everyone knows someone who has had an abortion. What we are arguing here is the access to safe abortion so that women don’t die. This is the biggest argument that most participants in the hearing presented,” Keunecke told Brasil de Fato.
The lawyer criticizes the arguments that were presented in the hearing opposing decriminalization. “We saw big shows, performances. We saw people with arguments that had no scientific basis to counter everything that was presented demonstrating that abortion is about public health and female mortality,” she said.
“They talk about morals and controlling women’s bodies. Someone was so absurd they said that, if abortion was legal, we would have an impact on pension funds because birth rates would drop in Brazil. So women don’t have the right to choose. They have to give birth and have children to feed the pension system. These arguments have no legal reasoning or scientific or statistic data to prove what they are claiming,” Keunecke said.
The member of the DeFEMde, a network that took part in the first day of hearings, pointed out that, regardless the Supreme Court ruling, Brazil has signed international treaties to respect women’s autonomy and their right to choose their reproductive processes, such as the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. She said, “the human rights of women and girls are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of universal human rights.”
Another example is the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women, also known as the “Convention of Belém do Pará.” Brazil ratified the text, which reads “violence against women constitutes a violation of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, and impairs or nullifies the observance, enjoyment and exercise of such rights and freedoms.”
Article 1 of that same treaty defines violence against women as “any act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or the private sphere.” The second article of the Convention of Belém do Pará goes on to address violence in health facilities, which is very common in cases of unsafe abortions.
“All we need is to put human rights into effect and enforce them. It [the hearing] was a big step for Brazil. We hope the Supreme Court understands that it is their duty to comply with international treaties,” Keunecke added.
Edition: Diego Sartorato | Translated by Aline Scátola