Brazil's top court opened a hearing on Friday that will decide whether abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy will be decriminalized nationwide.
The South American nation currently allows abortions only in cases of rape, an obvious risk to the mother's health or if the fetus does not have a functioning brain.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Rosa Weber raised the issue in an online session Friday and voted in favor of the action. He will retire in October after turning 75, the age limit for members of the court. Ten more justices have yet to vote, but there is no set date for when the hearing will resume.
Weber said in her ruling that Brazil's position on abortion does not address the “equal protection of women's fundamental rights by giving absolute predominance to the guardianship of potential life” — the fetus.
“Criminalizing the conduct of voluntary termination of pregnancy, without restrictions,” Weber wrote, “strikes at the core of women's rights to freedom, self-determination, intimacy, reproductive freedom, and dignity.”
In 2018, a health ministry official said the government estimated there were about 1 million abortions a year outside of permitted conditions, with unsafe procedures causing more than 250,000 hospitalizations and 200 deaths.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said in April last year during the election campaign that anyone should be allowed to have an abortion, but within days he backtracked. He then said he opposes abortion, although he believes women should be allowed the choice as a matter of public health.
A case last year shocked Brazilians after a conservative judge blocked for weeks a raped 11-year-old girl from ending her pregnancy in the southern state of Santa Catarina. The girl, who was 10 years old when she was raped, was in her 29th week when the abortion was finally carried out.
At the time, anti-abortion activists argued that it was too late for the procedure. Brazilian law does not mention a limit in the case of rape victims or when a woman's life is in danger.
Debora Diniz, a researcher at Brown University, conducted a 2016 survey in Brazil that found one in five respondents had an abortion by the age of 40. The study of 2,002 Brazilian women found higher abortion rates among those with less education and income.
The wealthiest Brazilians for many years traveled to the United States or Europe to get abortions without facing the risks and legal obstacles they find at home. Most recently, they traveled to Argentina, the largest Latin American nation to allow the process as of late 2020. Brazilians do not need passports to enter Argentina.