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Op-ed praises Brazil Supreme Court decision in favor of abortion rights

Brazil on Tuesday took "an important step forward in the battle for reproductive rights," when the country's "Supreme Court ruled that abortion is not a crime when performed in the first trimester of a pregnancy," columnist Sirin Kale writes for Broadly.

Kale explains that while "the ruling will not overturn the existing ban on abortion in the predominantly Catholic country, as under Brazilian law a single decision like this one can't set a binding legal precedent," it "indicates that a sea change in Brazil's abortion laws may, finally, be imminent." She cites the decision, which held that as "'[w]omen bear alone the burden of pregnancy … there will only exist gender equality if women have the right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy or not.'"

Kale also references Debora Dinez -- a documentarian, law professor at the University of Brasilia and co-founder of feminist group Anis -- who explained that the decision has more political significance than legal significance. Dinez added, "'It is, however, a clear and strategic message by Justice Luís Roberto Cardoso that some Justices are ready to tackle the fundamental question in abortion cases, which is: Should abortion be considered a crime, given the Brazilian Constitution's provisions on gender equality, dignity, and the right to health?'"

Regarding the ruling's practical implications, Dinez said while "'[w]omen can now use the courts to argue for their rights to have a legal abortion, … this isn't real at the same time.'" She explained that low-income "'women have many barriers in their access to courts, and clandestine abortion clinics will still not be able to operate freely.'" Kale notes that an estimated one million women seek abortion care each year in Brazil, but the country has over the past decade increasingly targeted clinics that provide illicit abortion care. She notes that conservative lawmakers are pushing back against the latest ruling.

Dinez also addressed how the country's ongoing efforts to address the Zika virus, which causes fetal anomalies, are "'kind of the entry point for reopening discussion related to the effects of the abortion law.'" According to Kale, "A landmark case will come before Brazil's Supreme Court on December 7 looking to legalize abortion in cases where the woman believes she might be infected with Zika."

Dinez noted that until the law is reformed, all women in the country will be adversely affected. "'It's the common woman,'" Dinez said, adding, "'Black and brown; Catholic or evangelical women; women with kids; young women. These laws make a huge impact on ordinary women across Brazil'" (Kale, Broadly, 12/2).