Brazilian Court Rules Against Aborting Fetuses Without Brains

Brazil’s highest court has ruled against allowing abortions in cases where the fetus has developed without a brain. This disorder, which is always fatal, is called anencephaly and occurs approximately 650 times a year in Brazil. The ruling by Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal was prompted by a request from the National Confederation of Healthcare Workers that the court clarify whether abortion was legal in cases of anencephaly, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The decision throws out an earlier judge’s ruling, but does not settle the broader issue of whether abortion in cases of anencephaly is legal under Brazilian law Philadelphia Inquirer. The full high court is expected to rule on the issue shortly.

Currently Brazil only allows abortion in the cases of rape and severe danger to the women’s life. Several judges have allowed abortion in the case of anencephaly because they feel the disorder presents a risk to women’s health. While President Luiz Inacio da Silva’s Health Ministry favors limited abortion on demand, the government’s top attorney argues for the court to prohibit abortion.

The ruling disproportionately affects the health of poor women. While hundreds of thousands of women can afford to pay for abortions at private clinics, poor women must go through the public health system or turn to back alley abortions and homemade remedies, according to Knight Ridder News Service. In an amicus brief, the Brazilian Human Rights, Gender and Bioethics Institute argued that the ban on abortion for fetuses with anencephaly results in “physical and psychological torture” and “denies women their constitutional right to access health care,” according to Kaisernetwork.org.

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Philadelphia Inquirer 10/22/04; Knight Ridder News Service 10/23/04; Kaiser Network 10/25/04

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