March 9, 2018

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), a global advocacy organization fighting for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, has filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of Brazilian women’s right to abortion. The brief argues in favor of decriminalization of abortion in Brazil in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and was filed on International Women’s Day (March 8) with Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court.

“Brazilian women’s lives are on the line and it is imperative that the Supreme Court consider the facts on abortion,” said Françoise Girard, President of the International Women’s Health Coalition. “Bans and criminalization do not prevent women anywhere in the world from seeking abortions. They only result in women risking their lives and health as they are forced to turn to clandestine providers.”

In Brazil, abortion is considered a crime except in the case of rape, anencephaly (a severe fetal anomaly), or danger to the life of the woman. Yet it is estimated that more than half a million abortions occur each year—the vast majority of which are considered unsafe. Complications from clandestine abortions may be killing as many as four women each day, most of them black and working-class.

IWHC’s amicus brief supports the lawsuit ADPF n. 442 (or Arguição de Descumprimento de Preceito Fundamental n. 442 in Portuguese), filed on March 8th 2017 by the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), in partnership with the Anis-Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender, a long-time IWHC partner. The lawsuit argues that the 1940 Penal Code articles used to prohibit abortion are in conflict with the 1988 Brazilian constitution.

IWHC requested admission as “amicus curiae” and presented arguments in support of the case, drawn from its more than three decades of expertise advocating for women’s sexual and reproductive rights worldwide. The brief presents data and information demonstrating that criminalizing abortion does not reduce the number of abortions and may even lead to an increase in abortions. Decriminalizing abortion, IWHC argues, helps to reduce the stigma traditionally associated with women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, and over time encourages and supports women to seek reproductive health care and use contraceptives. This can ultimately result in a reduction in the number of abortions. IWHC further argues that criminalizing abortion results in poorer maternal health and higher morbidity, and that decriminalizing the procedure is essential to ensuring Brazilian women’s constitutional right to health. The case has yet to be heard before Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court.

Nearly 7 million women, mostly in developing countries, are treated for complications from unsafe abortion annually, and an estimated 47,000 still die each year as a result. Abortion should be an integral part of the package of sexual and reproductive health services available to all women and girls, everywhere.

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Photo: Mídia Ninja