“Constitutionalizing Abortion in Brazil” by Marta Machado and Rebecca Cook

Congratulations and thanks to Professors Marta Rodriguez de Assis Machado and Rebecca J. Cook for their new publication in the Brazilian journal Revista de Investigações Constitucionais / Journal of Constitutional Research.  Prof. Machado teaches at the Getulio Vargas Foundation School of Law (Sao Paulo), and Prof. emerita Rebecca Cook is Co-Director of our International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program a the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law.

This article is part of an open-access symposium on “The 30th Anniversary of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution” in the Brazilian Revista de Investigações Constitucionais – Journal of Constitutional Research (vol. 5, n. 3, 2018), guest edited by Richard Albert, Sofia Ranchordás and Mariana Velasco.

Marta Machado and Rebecca J. Cook, Constitutionalizing Abortion in Brazil.  Revista de Investigações Constitucionais / Journal of Constitutional Research, Curitiba, vol. 5, n. 3, p. 185-231, set./dez. 2018. 47 pages. Abstract and Article online.
SSRN copy.


Brazil has been constitutionalizing disputes on women’s right to terminate unwanted pregnancy. This paper explains how this process started with the drafting of the new constitution in 1986-87, and evolved in different arenas, the legislative, the executive and in the public sphere. Most recently, it moved to the Supreme Court, primarily in its anencephalic pregnancy decision, brought as a Claim of Non Compliance with Fundamental Precept (ADPF 54). Decided in 2012, it was the first time since the adoption of the Penal Code in 1940 that the Brazilian Supreme Court moved the criminal boundaries to enable women to decide whether to terminate anencephalic pregnancies. The purpose of this article is to examine how the ADPF 54 decision contributed to the constitutionalization of abortion. First, it established the right to life as a non-absolute right, granting constitutional legitimacy to the system of legal exceptions. Second, it signaled the balancing of constitutional rights as the reasoning paradigm for this issue. Third, in framing the controversy as a matter of balancing constitutionally protected rights, the positions established in the Court ultimately recognized crucial understandings of women’s rights.

Keywords: Brazil, Constitution, anencephaly, pregnancy, abortion, women’s rights.
Full text:  47-page publication in English, also online through journal.

MACHADO, Marta Rodriguez de Assis; COOK, Rebecca J.
Constitucionalização do aborto no Brasil: uma análise a partir do caso da gravidez anencefálica. Revista Direito e Práxis, Ahead of print, Rio de Janeiro, 2019. DOI: 10.1590/2179-8966/2019/43406
Disponível em: Portugues, antes da impressão
Resumo disponível aqui

Related Resources in English:

Sonia Corrêa, “Supreme Court of Brazil: Public Hearing on the Decriminalization of Abortion, August 3rd & 6th 2018– Antecedents, Content, Meanings,” (Sexuality Policy Watch, Sept. 2018) [re: petition ADPF 442, which calls for decriminalization of abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. ]   31-page article

Testimony of Rebecca J. Cook, C.M, M.P.A., J.D., J.S.D., of the University of Toronto, on behalf of the Latin American Consortium against Unsafe Abortion (CLACAI)  in the  Public Hearing before the Supreme Court of Brazil, case ADPF 442 (3 August 2018).   English.    Espanol.     Portugues.

Luís Roberto Barroso “Bringing Abortion into the Brazilian Public Debate: Legal Strategies for Anencephalic Pregnancy,” Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies, ed. Rebecca J. Cook, Joanna N. Erdman and Bernard M. Dickens (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).   Abstract onlineSpanish abstract.

Supreme Court of Brazil, . Claim of Non Compliance with Fundamental Precept nº 54. ADPF 54/DF.  April 12, 2012,  Portuguese anencephaly decision Backup copy.

Abortion-related articles from the same Symposium:

Francisca Pou Giménez, “Constitutionalism and rights protection in Mexico and Brazil: comparative remarks,”  Revista de Investigações Constitucionais / Journal of Constitutional Research, vol. 5, n. 3 (set./dez. 2018) pp 233-255  Abstract and article PDF.

David Kenny, “Abortion, the Irish Constitution, and constitutional change” Revista de Investigações Constitucionais / Journal of Constitutional Research, vol. 5, n. 3 (set./dez. 2018) pp. 257-275   Abstract and Article PDF.

Compiled by the Coordinator of the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program, reprohealth*law at utoronto.ca For Program publications and resources, see our website, online here. TO JOIN THIS BLOG: enter your email address in upper right corner of this webpage, then check your email to confirm the subscription.

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