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Partial decriminalization of abortion in Brazil provokes ire of religious right

Rio de Janeiro's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue is seen at sunrise on Aug. 2, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay

RIO DE JANEIRO (RNS) A Brazilian court’s ruling legalizing abortion during the first trimester has caused uproar among politicians with strong ties to Roman Catholic and evangelical faiths, who have gained ground in the current government.

The decision Tuesday (Nov. 29) is a watershed in a country where abortion is a crime, and it comes in response to a case in which five people were charged with performing clandestine abortions.

By dropping the charges against the accused, the Federal Supreme Court, Brazil’s highest, signaled it favored the decriminalization of abortion in other cases.

The president of Brazil’s House of Representatives, Rodrigo Maia, who is said to be seeking re-election with the support of the religious right, led calls for the ruling to be overturned.

He immediately set up a special committee to “rule clearly” on abortion.

“Whenever the Supreme Court legislates in place of the House of Representatives or the National Congress,” he said, “we must respond, confirm or correct the court’s decision, as is the case right now.”

Critics of the judgment claimed the ruling was “slipped through” while the nation’s attention was focused on the tragic air disaster Tuesday in Medellin, Colombia, that virtually wiped out the Brazilian premiere league soccer team, Chapecoense.

“This is a major attack on the rule of law,” said Evandro Gussi, leader of the Green Party. “Abortion is an abominable crime because it claims the lives of the innocent.”

Edmar Arruda of the Social Democratic Party added: “We who are Christians defend the family. We cherish life and we do not agree with this decision.”

On Thursday, Cardinal Sergio da Rocha, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, condemned any attempt to decriminalize abortion. “We urge our communities to pray and to speak out publicly in defense of human life from conception,” he said.

Brazil is home to the world’s largest Catholic and Pentecostal population. It also has the highest incidence of abortion, the great majority clandestine.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 800,000 clandestine abortions in Brazil each year, and 15 women die from botched operations every month.

“(Tuesday’s) ruling is surprising given the recent shift toward the political right in Brazil and much of the Americas,” said R. Andrew Chesnut, a scholar of Catholicism at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Previously, Brazil allowed for abortion only in cases of rape, when the mother’s life was at risk or when a fetus was thought to be brain-dead.

Women face up to three years in jail if convicted of the crime; doctors convicted of performing the procedure may serve up to four years.

The court’s landmark ruling relates to a specific case involving a medical team of doctors and staff charged with performing illegal terminations in a clandestine abortion clinic in Duque de Caxias, a municipality in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Police raided the clinic in 2013 and arrested the staff. The judges dropped the charges.

Leading judge Luís Roberto Barroso wrote as part of the ruling that criminalization of abortion is “incompatible with the empowerment of women, their physical and mental integrity and their sexual and reproductive rights.”

“Women should not be compelled by the state to keep an unwanted pregnancy,” he wrote.

“It is the woman who supports the full burden of pregnancy. And as a man does not become pregnant, there will only be full equality if we respect the will of the woman in this matter.”

The judges said the fear of imprisonment had not had a significant impact on the number of abortions in the country but had in fact prevented them from being performed safely.

Citing the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Portugal and France among others as examples, the judges added: “Virtually no democratic and developed country in the world treats the interruption of pregnancy during the first trimester as a crime.”

Next week the court is scheduled to start the debate on the rights of women infected by the Zika virus during pregnancy to abort if microcephaly is detected in the unborn child.

(Janet Tappin Coelho is an RNS correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro)

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  • “The World Health Organization estimates there are 800,000 clandestine
    abortions in Brazil each year, and 15 women die from botched operations
    every month.”

    But it must be noted that the women injured and killed in these operations are considered “collateral damage” to the fetus worship crowd. Women who supposedly deserved their fate for being so “immoral”.

    From an unrelated article
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160511210615.htm
    “”In developed countries, the continued fall in abortion rates is largely
    due to increased use of modern contraception that has given women
    greater control over the timing and number of children they want,”

    ” For example, in countries where abortion is prohibited altogether, or
    allowed only to save a woman’s life, the rate is 37 abortions per 1000
    women, compared with 34 where it is legally permitted on request.”
    —-

    By all credible accounts, banning abortion does not lower teen pregnancy and abortion rates, but legalized abortion and access to modern contraception does. The religious right’s arguments on the subject have nothing to do with addressing the issue or rational thought.

  • So, prohibiting abortion does not prevent abortion. Who woulda thunk?

    What does abortion do, especially when combined with prohibiting birth control and impeding responsible family planning? It just makes criminals of people who aren’t, gives moralizing busybodies a chance to interfere in the lives of other people, all the while doing nothing to prevent abortion!

    Quelle surprise!

  • From the pro-life point of view, it is particularly problematic that a nation with such a high percentage of professing Catholics and Pentecostals should exhibit such high rates of abortion. It is evident that there is a disconnect between professions of faith which are for public consumption and in contrast with private acts which negate that profession.

  • The evidence is clear.

    If, and it’s a big if, the aim is to reduce abortion rates there are a number of actions that actually work.

    Ensure that comprehensive, factual, accurate, secular, age-related sex-ed is supplied as a compulsory part of every child’s education.

    Provide freely available contraception – whilst maintaining full patient confidentiality and without requiring reasons or third-party consent (and third parties includes parents, male relatives etc.).

    Empower women, emotionally and financially, so that they feel encouraged to make, and maintain, decisions for themselves.

    Create an environment where everybody, regardless of sexuality or gender, is expected and entitled to enjoy taking responsibility for their bodies (this might also discourage obesity).

    I suspect that many religious groupings do not want to take effective steps since that which we know to be effective would lessen their control over those from whom they derive their, power, their wealth and their raison-d’etre.

  • “Edmar Arruda of the Social Democratic Party added: “We who are Christians defend the family. We cherish life and we do not agree with this decision.”

    On Thursday, Cardinal Sergio da Rocha, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, condemned any attempt to decriminalize abortion. “We urge our communities to pray and to speak out publicly in defense of human life from conception,” he said.”

    I’m sure the millions of Brazilians living in the favellas feel much better knowing that they are “cherished” and “defended.”

  • I find Brazilian law to be retarded and still developing to meet international standards in many areas. For example, it needs to be understood that there is an absolute right to self-defense, which includes your right to kill, if necessary, any creature, whether plant, animal, human adult, child or fetus that insists on continuing to touch you without your permission for far less than nine months.

  • Disagreement is fine, praying is fine (providing no-one else suffers whilst they talk to themselves) but I doubt that’s really what they mean.

    What I think they truly want is to impose their irrational beliefs on everyone else; after all, if they succeed they won’t need to attempt to defend their daft ideas against reason. Martin Luther said – “If you want to be a Christian you must first pluck out the eye of reason” but if the valuing of reason can be defeated there is no need to fear evidence and logic. Then the battlelines would simply become the differences that the varying tribal factions use to try to distinguish “my” (correct) nonsense from “your” (wrong) nonsense.

    I see this on a committee I am part of, my role as a humanist seems largely to consist of uniting the various religious representatives, different bits of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, LDS, Quakers, Baha’i etc. Their first need is to maximise the size of the religious population, and to do so they make an uneasy common cause against non-belief. Fighting over their share of the cake is secondary to ensuring the continuation of said cake.

    In other situations one sees temporary alliances, in the face of sensible questions about why their beliefs should be taken seriously, between disparate believers. Roman Catholics, Pentecostalists, Evanglicals etc. many of whom sincerely believe that the rest are going to hell will all seek to limit behaviour to that which preserves the religious agenda before, prayerfully and in deep sorrow, trying to (metaphorically) tear each others’ eyes out.

  • It’s interesting how the author and editor only found the religious and ideological positions/motivations of critics worth mentioning, and not those of the judges or their supporters. Actually, not that interesting. Typical.

  • Wrong. Numbers of those killed in illegal abortions are a helpful (but invented) statistic for those who want to legalize abortion. It’s an estimate based on nothing empirical from those who would benefit from legalized abortion.

    If it was about preventing this, wouldn’t you seek out those doing these dangerous procedures and stop them? Yet the article is about these creeps being let go, and only “the religious right” is concerned about this. The question never seems to occur to the author.

    And if contraception lowers abortion rates, why did Roe v Wade occur less than a decade after contraception was fully legalized? Shouldn’t increasing contraception prevalence have prevented the need to legalize abortion, since they would have been prevented? Why did the opposite happen in the US–why did the abortion rate skyrocket after contraception was fully legalized, followed by demands to legalize abortion?

  • “It’s an estimate based on nothing empirical from those who would benefit from legalized abortion.”

    You base this assertion on what? The World Health Organization stands to benefit from legalized abortion for some reason other than safety? You are making an unfounded assertion based on your own antipathy towards abortion. There is nothing resembling facts in your claim here.

    “If it was about preventing this, wouldn’t you seek out those doing these dangerous procedures and stop them?”

    The best way to stop them is not to provide a market for unsafe and dangerous procedures in the first place. You are pretending like these countries that ban abortions don’t enforce their laws or punish practitioners who do them. They do, but still the demand exists for the procedure in those places. Bans merely drive out legitimate medical professionals and give rise to dangerous hacks.

    Proof positive of this is what happened in Texas. With onerous abortion restrictions, maternal death and injury rates soared to developing world levels. Injuries from self-abortion, unseen since the early 70’s started to occur in significant numbers.

    Kermit Gosnell is another example of how abortion restrictions promote dangerous and deadly hacks performing abortions. Gosnell operated in one of the most restrictive environments in the Northeast when it came to obtaining an abortion. Such restrictions benefited him by driving poor women to seek his services despite the clear danger he was posing to the public. Despite the flat out fictions from the fetus worship crowd, The state and local government ignored pleas by the medical profession and legitimate abortion providers to shut him down. It is clear he was being used for anti-choice propaganda purposes.
    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2016/01/kermit_gosnell_s_atrocities_aren_t_an_argument_for_stricter_abortion_laws.html

    “Shouldn’t increasing contraception prevalence have prevented the need
    to legalize abortion, since they would have been prevented?”

    Which is exactly what it does. Abortion rates have gone down dramatically where contraception is prevalent. Did you see my citation to Sciencedaily article?
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160511210615.htm
    “In developed countries, the continued fall in abortion rates is largely due to increased use of modern contraception that has given women greater control over the timing and number of children they want,”


    Why did the opposite happen in the US–why did the abortion rate
    skyrocket after contraception was fully legalized, followed by demands
    to legalize abortion?”

    It didn’t. There was a spike in the abortion rate in the early 70’s coinciding with nationwide legalization and it has been on a precipitous decline in the generations which followed it.
    http://www.vox.com/2016/8/30/12709638/teen-pregnancy-birth-control

  • Because without religion interjecting itself in what is a purely civil and medical matter, there would be no questions here. Abortion would not have been banned in the first place.

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