The attorney general of Brazil has asked the country’s Supreme Court to allow pregnant women infected with the Zika virus to get abortions.
The move by Attorney General Rodrigo Janot has sparked controversy in the largely conservative and Catholic nation, with religious leaders and some lawmakers voicing their protest at any such measure, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Brazil’s current laws permit abortion only in specific situations, such as in pregnancy due to rape, or if a woman’s health is in danger due to her pregnancy.
Some years ago, the court likewise made abortion legal for anencephaly cases, a condition where a fetus develops with an incomplete skull and stunted brain formation that causes newborn infants to die within hours or days.
Janot’s proposal said that forcing women with Zika to full-term and criminalizing abortion for them is in violation of their “reproductive autonomy” and would put them under severe emotional and psychological strain or “torture.”
As a result of Brazil’s military dictatorship that saw the use of countless torture methods, the country’s constitution now defines freedom from torture — which has a broad definition — as a fundamental human right.
Janot is appealing to the Supreme Court in support of a lawsuit on behalf of pregnant women infected with Zika. The suit was filed by the National Association of Public Defenders in August. Janot’s proposal includes giving women at risk access to free contraceptives and insect repellent. He has asked for public hearings.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, but can also be transmitted through sexual contact. The virus has been linked to various birth defects, such as microcephaly.
Fabio Medina Osorio, Brazil’s solicitor general, wrote a letter to the Supreme Court stating that allowing abortions of fetuses inflicted with microcephaly is “directly violating the right of life.”
Medical reports have shown that while some infants born with microcephaly caused by Zika have died, the condition is not as life-threatening as anencephaly.
Osorio said that the issue should be decided in congress, not by the courts.
Brazil has been one of the countries hit hardest by the Zika virus, with a record of 174,000 probable cases, 78,000 of which have been confirmed.
Joaquim Gonzaga Neto, president of the National Association of Public Defenders, argues that the lawsuit was filed out of concern for women of color in the county’s most impoverished areas, such as the Northeast. There is a lack of education on the implication and costs of carrying a child with microcephaly, and women in these areas do not have all the assistance they might need.
Religious leaders have objected to the proposal. “The church is not in favor of abortion,” according to Dom Pedro Carlos Cipolloni of Brazil’s National Conference of Bishops.