SAO PAULO –– Supreme Court justices in Brazil voted to legalize the abortion of fetuses without brains or those with malformed brains, despite an effort that saw thousands of Brazilians praying outside of the court, urging the justices to protect the life of unborn children.AbortionA woman prays during a candlelight vigil April 10 in front of Brazil’s Supreme Court in Brasilia in an attempt to influence ministers to vote against the legalization of abortion. (CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino)

The voting session, which ended late April 12, showed that the majority of the justices – 8 of 10 – were in favor of allowing women to interrupt a pregnancy if the fetus is found to have a malformed brain.

The Brazilian bishops’ conference issued a statement “deeply regretting” the court’s decision. The document, signed by the conference president, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, said that “to legalize the abortion of anencephalic fetuses – erroneously diagnosed as brain-dead fetuses – is to discard a fragile and innocent being. Anencephalic fetuses cannot be discarded nor have their fundamental rights stolen.”

The said that by taking this stance, the church relies on “ethical, theological, scientific and legal arguments. Any argument that claims that this is an interference of religion in a secular state is erroneous.”

Earlier in the week, the bishops had asked Catholics to hold prayer vigils outside of the court to encourage justices to consider the life of the unborn child.

“We understand that the principles of the inviolable right to life, the dignity of the human person and the promotion of well-being, without any form of discrimination (stated in the Brazilian Constitution) also includes anencephalic fetuses,” said a document distributed by the bishops’ conference to parishes around the country.

In Sao Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Scherer asked parishes to join prayer vigils April 10 “so that human life is respected and preserved in all circumstances.”

“Only God is the master of life, and it is not up to mankind to eliminate his fellow man, killing him,” Cardinal Scherer said in the letter.

Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro led a vigil for unborn children and the preservation of life April 10.

“Even if (life is) brief, everyone has the right to life,” he said at the vigil.

In a statement the archdiocese said, “If the Supreme Court defines this type of abortion as constitutional, it may open up precedence to the legalization of other forms of abortion.”

In Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, hundreds gathered outside the Supreme Court building to protest the voting session.

The justices who voted for legalization explained that “what is at stake is not the right of the fetus but the right of the pregnant woman.” They said that the “non-interruption of the pregnancy would only bring psychological distress to the pregnant woman.”

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in specific cases. Individuals other than a doctor convicted of participating in an abortion face from one to three years in jail. Doctors who perform abortions not permitted by law face from one to four years in jail.