Despite threats, Brazilian activist readies for abortion hearing

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Undeterred by death threats, a leading pro-choice campaigner said on Thursday that she is ready to give evidence to Brazil’s top court in a hearing that could pave the way to decriminalize abortion, an issue which divides the Catholic nation.

With the supreme court hearing due to open on Friday, the government has assigned a round the clock bodyguard to protect Debora Diniz, a law professor at the University of Brasilia, after she received death threats in June.

“I’m on alert but I’m not intimidated because I need to do my work,” Diniz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, adding that she has been receiving death threats for a decade because of her pro-abortion stance.

“This is exactly the silencing that the hate crowd wants. Fear to silence me,” said Diniz, who is being protected as part of a government program for at-risk activists.

The Catholic-majority region has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws, with outright bans in half a dozen Latin American and Caribbean countries.

One in five Brazilian women has had at least one abortion by the age of 40, many of whom are poor, young and black, according to ANIS, a women’s rights group founded by Diniz.

Brazil’s court will consider if the current law - which only allows abortion when a pregnancy results from rape, a woman’s life is at risk, or if the fetus has anencephaly, where part of the brain is missing - is unconstitutional.

This could pave the way for the legalization of abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, making Brazil the second country in the region to make abortion legal under any circumstances, after Uruguay.

Dozens of experts will speak at the two-day court hearing.

“My arguments will ... revolve around the numerous calls made by the United Nations to Brazil to legalize abortion in all cases,” said Sebastian Rodriguez, a lawyer at the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

“This hearing is politically powerful ... and will certainly position this issue at the forefront of the court’s agenda.”

No date has been set for the court’s decision.

Brazil’s influential Catholic Church and evangelical groups believe abortion is a sin and say the law must protect the rights of an unborn child at all costs.

Argentina’s senate is expected to vote next week on a bill legalizing abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, after it was approved by the lower house.

Some 47,000 women die from botched abortions each year worldwide, accounting for up to 13 percent of maternal deaths, according to the World Health Organization.