Brazil Court Prohibits Abortions on Disabled Babies, Pro-Life Groups Applaud

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 22, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Brazil Court Prohibits Abortions on Disabled Babies, Pro-Life Groups Applaud Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 22, 2004

Rio De Janeiro ( — Brazil’s top court this week voted 7-4 to end the practice of performing abortions on some disabled unborn children. Abortion advocates decried the decision that ends abortions on unborn children who are physically and mentally disabled because they have no properly developed a brain.

The Wednesday vote by the Supreme Federal Tribunal ends the practice, which has been permitted since July.

A largely Catholic nation, Brazil prohibits virtually all abortions, except those necessary to save the life of the mother or in rare cases of rape or incest.

In July, one judge on the Brazilian court issued an order that allowed women to have abortions when their babies suffered from anencephaly, where the baby fails to fully develop a brain stem. About 650 such cases occur each year in the South American nation.

The liberal government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva favors abortion in some cases, but the nation’s top attorney argued against the abortions in front of the court.

Humberto Vieira, president of Brazil’s Pro-Life and Pro-Family Association, said so-called eugenic abortions could lead to allowing other abortions in the future.

Abortions of babies with anencephaly "[open] the way to other types of abortion, for example, of the physically or mentally disabled, and even healthy human beings who, however, do not fit the criteria approved by eugenic groups," Vieira said.

Vieira said he is worried that health concerns for women having abortions are left out of the debate.

"The abortion of anencephalic offspring, as any other kind of abortion, has very serious consequences for a woman," he explained. "A woman is not exempt from the consequences of abortion by the mere fact that she bears an anencephalic fetus."

The decision isn’t going over well with some Brazilians. The National Confederation of Healthcare Workers, a union that backs abortion, says it wanted the court to allow the abortions.

The Brazilian National Bishops Conference joins Vieira’s group in opposing the abortions would rather the legislature tackle the issue rather than allowing courts to decide.

Anencephaly is a congenital anomaly characterized by failure of development of the cerebral hemispheres and overlying skull and scalp, exposing the brain stem. This condition exists in varying degrees of severity.

Most infants who have anencephaly do not survive for more than a few days after birth.

Before coming to the nation’s high courts, individual judges would issue sometimes conflicting decisions on whether or not to allow the abortions to occur.