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Brazil high court legalizes abortion of brain-damaged fetuses

The Brazilian Supreme Court [official website, in Portuguese] on Thursday ruled [press release, in Portuguese] 8-2 to overturn the ban against abortion [JURIST news archive] of brain-damaged (anencephalic fetuses). Currently, Brazil criminalizes abortion with the narrow exceptions of cases in which pregnancy threatens the mother's life and in cases of rape. The court, in deciding to allow abortion [WP report] in such cases, considered the issue of the mother's fundamental right to decide to terminate her pregnancy and concluded that the women's reproductive rights are not subordinate to the interest of general public. It also assessed the fact that anencephalic fetuses have only a slim chance of survival and concluded that such fetuses could not be viewed as a person under the law. Finally, the court sought to address the problem that women undergo abortion through illegal operations, thereby posing health risks to women. The case and the decision were heavily opposed by religious groups that have condemned abortion. Thursday's decision is considered a significant shift for the largest Catholic country that has banned abortion in the past. The same issue was reviewed before Brazil's supreme court first in 2004 in which a judge authorized the abortion of an anencephalic fetus. However, this decision was overturned by the same court three months later.

Abortion is a controversial issue among predominantly Roman Catholic Latin-American countries. In March, the Supreme Court of Argentina [official website, in Spanish] ruled [JURIST report] that rape victims cannot be prosecuted for seeking abortions. In September, Mexico's Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] upheld [JURIST report] an amendment that stated life begins at conception thereby banning abortion. In 2008, Uruguay's president vetoed a law that was passed [JURIST reports] by the legislature decriminalizing abortion.

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