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Brazzil - Ethics - July 2004

Brazil: Catholic Church Goes to Court Against Abortion

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops wants a recent
judicial decision to allow abortions of fetuses with brain damage
to be reversed. The Brazilian Catholic Church has hired a lawyer
who is examining the best way to prevent the Federal Supreme
Court Judge's ruling from becoming the law in the land.

Irene Lobo


Picture The president of the Brazilian Bioethics Society (SBB), Volnei Garrafa, suggests that population be consulted on the interruption of pregnancy in cases of anencephalia (a congenital defect that blocks the formation of the brain).

"A plebiscite on the issue would be welcome in Brazil. What is important is for laws not to detach themselves from the morality of society," he observes.

July 1st, Federal Supreme Court Judge, Marco Aurélio Mello, issued a preliminary ruling permitting abortion in such cases to the National Confederation of Health Workers (CNTS), which filed the suit.

Prior to this, the procedure required court authorization. The ruling, which is valid for all of Brazil, will still be analyzed by the other members of the Supreme Court, most likely in August, after the Judicial recess.

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) wants the decision to be reversed. The CNBB's lawyer, Luíz Carlos Martins Alves, is examining the best way to prevent the ruling from becoming definitive.

Garrafa believes that the decision to carry a pregnancy through to the end should be up to each woman. "The preliminary ruling does not order the interruption of pregnancy; rather, it gives the mother liberty to resolve the issue according to her own morality.

"Brazilian law must stop being negative and prohibitory and become affirmative on these matters, since the country is pluralistic in terms of morality."

According to the president of the SBB, 65 percent to 70 percent of the fetuses without brains never complete the nine-month gestation period. Of those that are born, around 90 percent die before they are one day old.

The CNBB lawyer, Luís Carlos Alves, disputes this argument. "It is immaterial whether the fetus lived for only one minute or a hundred years. It lived. If the life lasted only one minute, so be it, it was nature that made this decision. Nature, not the human hand, can determine the duration of life."

For Garrafa, who is also coordinator of the Unesco Chair in Bioethics at the University of Brasília (UnB), the debate on the interruption of pregnancy should extend beyond the cases of anencephalia.

"The discussion should encompass all congenital malformations that are incompatible with life, so that women who so desire, do not suffer, and women whose religion says that that fetus is a person, carry the pregnancy through to the end."

In Brazil the right to abortion is guaranteed by article 128 of the Penal Code under two circumstances: when the unwanted pregnancy is the consequence of rape or when there is mortal risk to the mother. The interruption of pregnancy in cases of fetal malformation, such as anencephalia, is still not covered by existing law.

Bishops Position

In a note released July 2, the Brazilian National Council of Bishops (CNBB) states that the decision by Federal Supreme Court (STF) Judge, Minister Marco Aurélio Mello, on the interruption of pregnancy in the case of an anencephalic (brain absent) fetus should have been made after ample reflection by society and with the participation of the entire Court.

In the note, the CNBB affirms that it was surprised by "Minister Marco Aurélio's solitary ruling," judging that there is no crime of abortion in this case. "In this manner, he authorized the voluntary interruption of the gestation of a human life," the note adds.

The CNBB says that it trusts the STF members' sense of Right and Justice to reverse the decision. "In fact, a human life, which is formed in the mother's womb, is already a new holder of rights, and, for this reason, this life should always be respected, regardless of the stage or the condition in which it exists."

The note bears the signature of the president of the CNBB, Don Geraldo Majella Agnelo, the vice-president, Don Antônio Celso de Queirós, and the secretary-general, Don Odilo Scherer.

Irene Lobo 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 David Silberstein.

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