PRESS STATEMENT, September 22, 2023 – Women, girls, and transgender and non-binary individuals in Brazil have a new hope for the protection of their rights. Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court (STF) has begun voting on a lawsuit that seeks to decriminalize abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation nationwide.
The lawsuit, known as ADPF 442, examines the constitutionality of articles 124 and 126 of the Brazilian Penal Code, which criminalize abortion. STF President Rosa Weber gave the green light on September 19 for a virtual vote to take place between September 22 and September 29. During this period, the justices of the court will submit their written votes.
ADPF 442 argues that the criminalization of abortion violates the rights to dignity, citizenship, non-discrimination, life, equality, freedom, freedom from torture, and health and family planning, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution of Brazil and international and regional human rights treaties ratified by Brazil.
Statistics show that the current prohibition, which has been in place for decades, has not reduced the number of abortions in Brazil. According to the 2021 National Abortion Survey, one abortion occurs every minute in the country, which amounts to 1,369 per day and 500,000 per year.
It is estimated that five million women in Brazil have already had an abortion, equivalent to one in every seven women under the age of 40. Half of them did so before the age of 20, and most in unsafe conditions. According to data from the Ministry of Health, between 2012 and 2021, only 11,837 women were able to access abortion for medical or legal reasons.
Abortion is an essential health service, and that is why the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended decriminalizing abortion, treating it not as a matter for the criminal justice system but as the medical procedure it is.
The criminalization of abortion has serious consequences for women and girls. In Brazil, unsafe abortion is currently the leading cause of maternal death, and it is estimated that two out of every five women who undergo an unsafe abortion are hospitalized after the procedure.
In addition to this, between 2014 and 2022, 2,758 women were criminally charged for having an abortion, according to the National Council of Justice. This criminalization disproportionately affects Black women, Afro-Brazilians, quilombolas, indigenous women, and people from low-income backgrounds. In this context, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recently recommended that Brazil amend its legislation to ensure safe, legal, and effective access to abortion.
“The Court has a great opportunity to set a precedent that will prevent cases like that of Menina P. from recurring. She was an 11-year-old girl who was denied access to abortion and recently faced her second pregnancy, also a result of sexual assault. We trust that the Court will make it possible for Brazil to join the Latin American Green Wave that has recently made progress in access to abortion in Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina,” said Carmen Cecilia Martínez, Associate Director of Legal Strategies for Latin America at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The Center for Reproductive Rights supports and acknowledges the mobilization efforts led by allies such as ANIS (Instituto de Bioetica, Direitos Humanos e Genero) and many local civil society organizations that have been working for years to advance this demand. We will continue to work throughout the region to ensure that reproductive rights are recognized as fundamental human rights.
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