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Brazilian court decriminalises abortion by stealth

2 December 2016

An opponent called the court's decision "a major attack on the rule of law". Image: Wikiwand

A court ruling decriminalising abortion in the first trimester has caused outrage in Brazil.

On Tuesday, the Federal Supreme Court, Brazil's highest, dropped the charges against five people accused of performing clandestine abortions, on the grounds that abortion during the first three months should not be considered a crime.

Leading judge Luís Roberto Barroso wrote as part of the ruling that criminalisation of abortion is "incompatible with the empowerment of women, their physical and mental integrity and their sexual and reproductive rights."

Previously, abortion was permitted only in cases of rape, when the mother's life was at risk, or when the baby has anencephaly.

There has been much criticism of the ruling, with claims that it was "slipped through" when the nation's attention was focused on the loss of the Chapecoense football team in Tuesday's air disaster.

The president of Brazil's House of Representatives, Rodrigo Maia, led calls for the ruling to be overturned, and immediately set up a "special committee" to "rule clearly" on abortion.

"Whenever the Supreme Court legislates in place of the House of Representatives or the National Congress," he said, "we must respond, confirm or correct the court's decision, as is the case right now.

"This is a major attack on the rule of law," said Evandro Gussi, leader of the Green Party. "Abortion is an abominable crime because it claims the lives of the innocent."

French MPs vote to ban pro-life websites

The French National Assembly has approved a plan to criminalise any website that seeks to "exert psychological or moral pressure" on a woman seeking information about abortion.

Politicians backing the legislation say it is mostly aimed at websites that look very similar to official or neutral websites, but do everything to discourage women from getting an abortion, thus tricking users with disinformation. The bill would institute penalties of up to two years of incarceration and a 30,000-euro fine. The bill will now need to pass through the French Senate to come into force.

The issue has sparked debate in recent days, with acrimonious scenes in parliament. Dominique Tian, a republican MP, said the proposals were "dangerous for democracy and probably anti-constitutional" and said his party would do all it could to block them.

The president of the French bishops' conference, Archbishop George Pontier of Marseille, wrote to President Francois Hollande to express his concerns. He said that the bishops think the legislation questions the very foundations of liberties in France, and added that the bill would make "voluntary pregnancy interruption" (the term commonly used for abortion in France) less "voluntary" simply because it would make it "less and less free", calling it a "serious infringement to democratic principles."

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