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Brazzil - Law - July 2004

Birth Defect Allows Abortion in Brazil

Brazil's Supreme Court has authorized abortion when a fetus has
no brain. Abortions in the country are permitted only in cases of
rape and when a mother's life is at risk. The Catholic Church has
already protested the measure. "Even without a brain, the fetus
deserves the dignity due a human being," says a Catholic bishop.

Benedito Mendonça


Picture Brazilian Supreme Court justice, Marco Aurélio de Mello, has ruled that a woman may interrupt a pregnancy if it is discovered that the fetus is anencephalic, that is, with a partial or total lack of a brain. The decision is valid for all of Brazil, but the case still has to go before the whole court.

Mello ruled on a suit brought by the National Confederation of Health Workers (CNTS), which argued that it was an indignity to force a woman to carry to term a fetus that was not viable.

"It is combined physical and mental suffering, tantamount to torture," declared the CNTS lawyer, Luiz Roberto Barroso.

In the past the law was that a woman had to go to court to get permission to have an abortion in cases of an anencephalic fetus. The legal process often dragged on longer than the pregnancy. "I have had cases when the baby was born before the court decision," said Barroso.

Meanwhile, the secretary general of the CNBB (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos Brasileiros—Brazilian Catholic Bishop National Conference), Dom Odilo Pedro Scherer, said that the Catholic church is strongly against such abortions.

"Even without a brain, the fetus deserves the dignity due a human being," he declared, adding that in such cases the medical profession disregards that dignity and the fact that there is a life in play. "How can you say it is not alive if it develops over a nine-month period and is born?" he asks.

Dr. Valdecir Gonçalves Bueno, of the Brasilia Infant Maternal Hospital, explains that in Brazil abortions are permitted only in cases of rape and when a mother's life is at risk. He says that interrupting a pregnancy when the fetus is anencephalic cannot be called an abortion. "The child cannot survive," he declared.

Judiciary Reform 

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defends the reform of the Judiciary in order for the country to have a more nimble judicial system, accessible to all. According to Lula, it is in the country's interest to have a judicial system that is increasingly strong and capable of responding to society's demands.

"The government, democratically elected by the Brazilian population, cannot exempt itself from the current debate over the need to reform the Judiciary. This constitutes a basic issue for the country," the President affirmed earlier this year.

The President insisted upon the adoption of external control, criticized by the president of the Supreme Court, Minister Maurício Corrêa. According to Lula, the reform should be centered around three focal points: modernization of judicial administration, modification of ordinary laws, and Constitutional reform.

Corrêa, however, responded saying that the creation of an outside body to control the Judicial branch will not fulfill the expectations of Brazilian society, which desires greater speed and efficiency from the Judiciary.

According to Corrêa, the adoption of external control would transform the Judiciary into the only branch of the federal government with a specific organ to exercise external supervision over its administrative and financial activities.

The creation of a control body is one of the items in the Judicial reform proposal being discussed in the National Congress and considered a priority by the federal government.

The President of the STF attributes the slowness of judicial decisions to existing procedural laws, which allow parties various appeals. Corrêa said that the reformulation of the judicial system should be based much more on modernization of the laws, so that cases can proceed more rapidly, than on Constitutional changes, although these are necessary on some points.

Benedito Mendonça works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.

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