Should women be forced to carry to term a pregnancy with an anencephalic fetus? That is the question the Supreme Court of Brazil will grapple with on April 11, when it considers the long-delayed case known as APDF 54. ANIS: the Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender issued a press release on this case, which can be found here.
While it would seem absurd and impossibly cruel to force a woman to carry to term a fetus that is missing part of its brain and therefore has no chance of survival, this is in fact the practice in Brazil today. All, of course, in the name of stopping abortions.
Severina, a poor woman from the Brazilian Northeast state of Pernambuco, endured this charade in 2004. At the time, the ADPF 54 case had recently been filed in the Brazilian Supreme Court by Anis – the Brazilian Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender – and by the Brazilian Confederation of Health Workers, a trade union. Moved by the facts presented to him, then Chief Justice Marco Aurélio Mello issued a preliminary injunction to allow terminations of anencephalic pregnancies until the matter wound its way through the Court. The full Court, however, soon reversed that order.
Severina, who had been told she would not have to carry to term a pregnancy with a fatally compromised fetus, was instead sent home. Her distressing story is featured in the documentary Uma História Severina. She is only one of many such cases. Commenting on his vote to ban these abortions, Justice Cézar Peluzo stated that “suffering does not necessarily affect human dignity, and at times can elevate a person.” Watch the video and decide for yourself.
What are the prospects that the Court will finally end this inhuman practice? They would seem reasonably good, although the same Cézar Peluzo is currently the Chief Justice of the Court for a few more weeks. Severina herself will attend the hearing, and the brave Anis team, which has filed an amicus brief in the case, will stand with her. Yet conservative religious forces are mobilizing. They have, for example, successfully put pressure on the Brazilian government of Dilma Rousseff in recent weeks, notably to censor an anti-HIV media campaign targeting gay men, which was planned for Carnival. Whether the modern, new Brazil or a retrograde “anti-woman” Brazil will prevail, remains uncertain.
Those of us living in the United States might have thought, even a year ago, that this kind of grotesque scenario could only happen elsewhere. The events of this past year, as numerous invasive abortion restrictions have passed in one State legislature after the other, give us pause. Suddenly, the distance from vaginal probes to being forced to carry a non-viable pregnancy seems much shorter. On April 11, we will stand in solidarity with all the Severinas of Brazil.