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BRASILIA, Brazil (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Brazilian priest is facing a $70,000 penalty for trying to save the life of a disabled child.
Father Luiz Carlos Lodi recently lost an appeal before the Supreme Court of Brazil, which confirmed a lower court ruling that he must pay damages to a woman because he intervened in hope of preventing her from obtaining an abortion.
Father Lodi is well-known in Brazil for his pro-life work, especially in the Anápolis diocese in the state of Goiás in the country's Central Plateau region. After his defeat in court, he told local media that the ruling means that "anyone who wants to use legal means to defend life and prevent abortion will not be able to do so for fear of going to court and then being prosecuted."
The outspoken priest has said that he is prepared to go to prison because he has no assets other than his books.
In 2005, the woman and her partner were able to obtain a court's permission to abort their unborn child because of a diagnosis of "body stalk syndrome," a fetal abnormality characterized by a short umbilical cord and an open abdominal wall that exposes the unborn baby's internal organs. According to doctors, the baby was not expected to live outside of the mother's womb, thus making an abortion legal.
However, Fr. Lodi was able to get a court to issue a habeas corpus order, which a judge delivered personally to the hospital where the mother and child were interned. It was too late. Doctors had given the mother medication to induce labor. The mother left the hospital in Goiânia and went home. Her daughter was born eight days later, but subsequently died. The child lived long enough, however, to be named Giovana.
In 2008, the mother filed a lawsuit against the priest for "moral damages" caused by his interference in what she argued was a legal procedure. In 2016, Fr. Lodi was sentenced by the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) to pay compensation and interest amounting to the equivalent of $70,000. He has now exhausted all possibility of legal appeal. The priest has questioned why he is being obliged to pay an indemnity, since the habeas order he obtained was issued legally by a judge.
Any citizen can and should defend a life threatened with death, using the legal and procedural means available to them, including habeas corpus. The condemnation of the habeas corpus petitioner for moral damages is abnormal, since, if the court or judge granted the order, it was not for "obedience" to the citizen, but for verifying that, in that case, the judge was in fact acting illegally.
Lodi concluded on this basis, "Why not sue the judge who issued the injunction for 'moral damages'"?
In Brazil, laws concerning abortion have been liberalized in recent years. According to the national Penal Code, abortion is considered a crime against human life and is thus prohibited.
However, in 1940, the Brazilian congress eliminated the penalty in order to save the mother's life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape. Even so, abortion is still not considered a constitutional right even while women who resort to abortion are not punished. Those who commit an illegal abortion, even with the consent of the mother, may face one to four years of detention, even while in nearly all cases the penalty imposed is community service or compulsory donation to charity.
Brazil is a signatory, as is the United States, of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), which states in Article 4: "Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life."
In an email to Church Militant, Professor Ligia Castaldo of Ave Maria School of Law wrote:
With regard to the case of the Brazilian priest, what can be said is that the American Convention on Human Rights does not confer any right to abortion nor does it have any norm regarding reproductive rights that could be interpreted to confer that right. However, it does recognize the right to life from the moment of conception.
An expert on international law, Castaldo said further:
That right should be general, rather than exceptional, as has been affirmed by Judge Eduardo Vio Grossi of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It is therefore that Brazil should not penalize anyone for trying to protect the life of a person who is about to be born. On the contrary, the American Convention on Human Rights has expressed amply and unrestrictedly the obligation of protecting the life of the unborn child.
Castaldi referred to Artavia Murillo v. Costa Rica of 2012, in which Judge Grossi dissented from the majority of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a case in which the Central American republic defended its sovereign right to forbid in vitro fertilization. Citing the ACHR's guarantee to life in a paper criticizing the court's finding, Castaldi wrote:
Nevertheless, in Artavia Murillo et al. v. Costa Rica, the Inter-American Court interpreted the right to life from conception in the most restrictive possible manner, holding that, before implantation, the human embryo is not a person entitled to human rights protection under the American Convention, while redefining the term "conception" as implantation, not fertilization.
The court also defined Article 4(1)'s terms "in general, from the moment of conception" to mean that only gradual or incremental protection should be given to prenatal life, depending on the unborn child's physical stage of development. In addition, it held that "personal decisions" to produce biological children by in vitro fertilization (IVF) were protected under the American Convention on Human Rights, thus opening the way to a future proclamation of a broad right to personal decisions to choose state-funded abortion.
Pro-life groups in both North and South America have questioned the impartiality of the judges on the court, citing the fact that the majority have expressed strong support for a supposed right to abortion.
While Brazil's Civil Code ostensibly guarantees human rights to unborn persons, the Supreme Federal Court ruled in 2008 that those rights apply to intrauterine fetuses, but not frozen embryos ineligible for implantation in women. Bereft of rights, those fetuses can be used for scientific experiments.
Also, the Brazilian high court later authorized the killing of unborn babies diagnosed with anencephaly [microcephaly]: a congenital condition in which the baby's brain is undeveloped and that nearly always leads to death within days of birth.
In 2016, Brazil's Supreme Court ruled that "abortion should not be a crime when performed in the first three months of pregnancy," even though Congress had passed a bill earlier that year to further guarantee the rights of unborn children.
According to an entry on Fr. Lodi's blog, "This case makes it official that life cannot be defended in the name of the Faith that is professed, even if legal means are used to do so."
In an interview with ACI Digital, Fr. Lodi said he is happy about the court's decision but fears that it establishes a precedent for persecuting Catholics.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted by justice, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven," he said, citing the Beatitudes. "Blessed are you when they slander you, when they persecute you and falsely say evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because your reward will be great in Heaven."