BRASILIA, Brazil -- Brazil's judicial watchdog agency says it is investigating a judge who stopped an 11-year-old rape victim from getting an abortion — a procedure that advocates insist is allowed in the South American nation for rape cases at any stage of a pregnancy.
Santa Catarina state Judge Joana Ribeiro Zimmer was filmed at a hearing May 9 asking the child whether she understood how pregnancies happen, referring to her rapist as “the father of the baby," asking her to “hold on a little more” to save it and even suggesting a name should be picked. The girl repeatedly said she did not want to give birth.
Abortion rights are expected to be one of the big issues in Brazil's presidential election in October, which will pit far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is the current front-runner in opinion polls. Both are trying to appeal to moderate voters.
The case, reported by the website The Intercept Brasil last week, prompted associations of magistrates and human rights groups to request that the country's National Council of Justice remove Zimmer from her post. The council announced Tuesday it has opened an investigation.
Lawyer Daniela Félix, who represents the 11-year-old's family, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the child, who was 10 at the time she was raped this year, only noticed her pregnancy in its 22nd week.
The child's mother took her to a hospital in the city of Florianópolis to get an abortion, but doctors said they could perform the procedure only up to the 20th week of pregnancy.
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.
Some anti-abortion activists argue that Health Ministry recommendations urge a 20- to 22-week limit on abortions. But Félix and other lawyers noted the law itself makes no mention of a limit in the case or rape victims or when a woman's life is in danger.
Local police and prosecutors claim her relatives are suspects in the crime.
The child, who is now in the 29th week of pregnancy, was finally allowed to go home Tuesday under a ruling by another magistrate from the same court, though still without authorizing her to have an abortion.
Zimmer said in a statement Wednesday 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.”
The probe on Zimmer's methods will be conducted by the same Santa Catarina court system in southern Brazil and its decision with be referred to her own court in the Southern Brazil state, and then taken for the national watchdog to make its final decision.
Lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of the president's sons, said in his social media channels Wednesday that he agreed with Zimmer's decisions. “You should bear in mind the first ones to stop this abortion were in a medical team. Respect science,” the conservative politician said.
Bolsonaro and da Silva have already argued about abortion rights this year. Da Silva said 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.
——— Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.