SÃO PAULO – Brazil’s bishops celebrated a new resolution of the Federal Medical Council (CFM) determining that doctors cannot induce cardiac arrest on an unborn child with more than 22 weeks of pregnancy.

The norm, however, is being challenged by prosecutors and legislators and may not last too long.

On March 21, CFM published the resolution 2378/2024, which states that physicians are not allowed to perform a procedure known as fetal asystole after 22 weeks of pregnancy, a moment in which the viability of the baby’s life out of the mother’s womb is considered to be significant.

Fetal asystole is usually produced with an injection of potassium chloride inside the unborn child’s heart. Dead, the fetus is then taken out from the mother’s uterus.

In Brazil, abortion can only be legally carried out if the pregnancy puts the mother’s life in danger, if the unborn child in anencephalic, or if the pregnancy is a product of rape.

The South American country’s penal code doesn’t establish a time limit for abortions to be performed. During former President Jair Bolsonaro’s tenure – he served 2019-2022 – the government determined a limit of 21 weeks and 6 days. Under the rule of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, however, the Ministry of Health suspended this regulation.

The Brazilian Conference of Bishops of Brazil (known as CNBB) celebrated CFM’s resolution as a meaningful step in the path towards the protection of the unborn child’s life in Brazil.

“CNBB’s Life and Family Commission and Bioethics Commission, which oppose the abominable practice of abortion at any moment of a pregnancy, with the goal of always defending innocent human lives since conception, consider that CFM’s 2378/2024 resolution is an important step for the recognition and the respect to the dignity and the integrality of life inside the mother’s womb,” read a CNBB declaration issued on April 5.

The statement defined fetal asystole an “inhumane” act that doesn’t consider the fetal viability out of the uterus, even though it’s not punishable by civil law.

According to Doctor Pedro Spineti, who heads the Brazilian Association of Catholic Physicians, CFM’s resolution is important particularly because it establishes a time limit for abortion in Brazil.

“Of course, we should never interrupt any pregnancy. But that norm at least impedes doctors to kill a viable fetus before the abortion,” Spineti told Crux.

In his opinion, fetal asystole is a cruel procedure because “even criminals sentenced to death are firstly sedated and then receive the lethal drugs that will provoke death.”

“We can’t affirm for sure that the fetus feels pain during a procedure like that, but it’s undoubtedly a cruelty,” he said.

Spineti explained that the resolution gives additional protection for Catholic doctors who want to avoid performing such procedures.

“We still have much to fight for, but it was an important step,” he said.

The resolution is also significant because it emphasizes the fetus’s dignity and recognizes it as “a human person who must receive the physician’s attention,” he added.

That aspect was also celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Reginei José Modolo of Curitiba, who heads CNBB’s Bioethics Commission.

“We consider that there’s a growing perception of the dignity of life inside the womb. That’s a light and a hope for us,” Modolo told Crux.

He emphasized that a 2017 law regulated the cases of mothers who voluntarily give up their babies’ guardianship at birth, exempting them of any responsibility for their children, who are directed to adoption.

“Science considers that a 22-week-old fetus may be viable out of the mother’s body. The Brazilian legislation exempts the mother who wants to give her baby to adoption of any future responsibility, thus respecting her rights. So, why should the child be killed?” Modolo asked.

In his opinion, “maintaining such practice in the face of such possibilities is pure cruelty.”

A number of groups in Brazilian society, however, disagree. Federal prosecutors have questioned CFM’s decision last week and a judge in the State of Rio Grande do Sul determined that the council must explain the principles of the new resolution within three days from April 8.

The prosecutors argue that the CFM has extrapolated its incumbency and established a norm on a matter that should be the object of legislation by the Congress.

At the same time, left-wing legislators have appended a petition against the resolution to an ongoing suit against obstacles to legal abortion in Brazil. The case is under analysis by the Supreme Court.

The progress celebrated by CNBB, this way, may be ephemeral.

“This year, we’ll have elections at the CFM. A new council may revise previous acts, including that norm,” explained Spineti.