Brazil’s judicial watchdog has launched an investigation into a judge who blocked an 11-year-old rape victim from having an abortion.
Judicial and human rights groups had called on the country’s National Council of Justice to investigate Santa Catarina state Judge Joana Ribeiro Zimmer after her decision was reported last week by The Intercept Brasil.
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Video of a May 9 hearing showed Zimmer asking the child whether she understood how pregnancies happen. The judge referred to the rapist as “the father of the baby” and asked the girl to “hold on a little more” to save it.
The girl repeatedly said she did not want to give birth, the video showed.
A lawyer representing the girl told The Associated Press news agency she was 10 years old when she was raped, but turned 11 before she realised she was pregnant. That was in the 22nd week of pregnancy.
The child’s mother took her to a hospital in the city of Florianopolis to get an abortion, but doctors said they could perform the procedure only up to the 20th week of pregnancy, lawyer Daniela Felix said.
The family took the case to court within days, where Zimmer not only refused to allow the abortion but isolated the girl from her family in a state shelter, she said.
In a statement, Zimmer said that she “will not speak about parts of the hearing, which were illegally leaked”. She also said she will remain silent about the case “to assure the due and full protection to the child”.
While the country’s health ministry recommends abortions be only up to the 20th to 22nd week, Felix and other lawyers have argued that the law itself makes no mention of a limit on when an abortion can be performed. Abortions in the country are only legal in cases of rape or when a woman’s life is in danger, with both women and doctors facing imprisonment for having or performing the procedure in other cases.
In 2020, the health ministry created new rules that require doctors to report to police anyone who seeks an abortion after being raped, regardless of the survivor’s wishes. The regulations also require medical workers to show rape survivors an ultrasound of the fetus before a legal abortion.
Abortion rights are expected to be a major issue in the upcoming presidential elections in Brazil, in which far-right President Jair Bolsonaro will face off against left-wing former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Bolsonaro and da Silva have already argued about abortion rights this year. Da Silva said on April 6 that anyone should be allowed to get an abortion, a position that drew criticism from the president and many Evangelical supporters in his political base.
“For him, to abort a child or remove a tooth is the same thing,” Bolsonaro said.
Da Silva then backtracked, saying days later that he is against abortions but still believes women should be allowed the choice as a matter of public health.
On Twitter, Andrew Stroehlein, European media director for Human Rights Watch, drew a connection between the the 11-year-old girl’s case in Brazil and a pending Supreme Court ruling in the United States, which is expected to lead to the overturning of Roe v Wade, a landmark ruling that legalised abortion across the country.
“This is the kind of rights-abusing madness the US can look forward to,” he wrote.
The overturning of Roe v Wade could lead to near-immediate abortion bans in as many as 22 states.
In Brazil, about 500,000 illegal abortions are estimated to be conducted a year, according to a 2019 study published in the Lancet.