FEATURE – Supreme Court of Brazil to hear experts on decriminalization of abortion on 3rd and 6th August 2018


Debate on the decriminalization of abortion starts this week in the Supreme Court of Brazil

The press release is also avalaible in Spanish 

Public hearing

On Friday August 3rd and Monday August 6th, the Brazilian Supreme Court will hold a public hearing about the decriminalization of abortion. At the hearing, 50 speakers are scheduled to be heard, including health, law and social science experts, as well as feminist and international human rights organizations, and religious representatives.

Speakers were selected by the Supreme Court through an open application process, in which contributions were requested from organizations and others with expertise on the subject.

Each speaker will have up to 20 minutes to present. The schedule for both days of the public hearing, which starts at 8:30 am and ends at 7:30 pm both days, is available on the Supreme Court website.

The hearing will be broadcast on Brazilian TV Justiça and Radio Justica (@RadioJustica).

ADPF 442

Typically, public hearings aim to broaden the dialogue on issues that will be judged by the Supreme Court, through the participation of experts in technical, scientific, administrative, political, economic and legal aspects of the subject in question. Arguments presented by the speakers should contribute to further inform the decision-making of the Justices.

The public hearing on abortion was convened in the context of the Constitutional case ADPF 442, for which Justice Rosa Weber is the rapporteur. The case, filed in March 2017 by the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Freedom Party, PSOL) in partnership with Anis – Institute of Bioethics, calls for the decriminalization of abortion on request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, on the woman’s decision.

Currently, according to the 1940 Brazilian Penal Code, a woman who has an abortion can be sentenced to up to three years in prison, and any person who helps her obtain the procedure (health professionals, friends, relatives) can be imprisoned for up to four years. The only exceptions when an abortion is not considered a crime are in cases of rape, risk to the woman’s life or if there is a fetus with anencephaly, that is, without a brain.

The main argument of ADPF 442 is that the criminalization of abortion violates many of women’s constitutional rights, including the right to dignity, citizenship, the right not to be discriminated against, the right to life, equality, freedom, the right to freedom from torture, the right to health and to family planning.

The actual hearing of the Court on ADPF 442 is not yet scheduled.

Public health

According to the Pesquisa Nacional do Aborto (National Abortion Survey) – conducted by Anis – Institute of Bioethics in 2010 and 2016 – one in five Brazilian women has already had at least one abortion by the age of 40. In 2015 alone, 503,000 Brazilian women had an abortion. This means a Brazilian woman decides to terminate a pregnancy every minute. Those who have abortions in Brazil are ordinary women: the majority are young, have children and follow one of the major religions in the country; they are Catholic, Evangelical or Spiritist.

Done under proper conditions, abortion is safer than giving birth. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 7 million women are hospitalized each year in developing countries as a result of unsafe abortions, and between 4% and 13% of maternal deaths in the world stem from abortions performed under precarious conditions, concentrated in poor countries. These are preventable deaths, such as that of Ingriane Barbosa, who died of a generalized infection on May 16, 2018 in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, after attempting an abortion at home using a castor bean stalk. Ingriane was the mother of three children.

Dignity and citizenship

The proposers of ADPF 442 argue that the criminalization of abortions violates women’s dignity and citizenship by preventing them from having the possibility to decide whether or not they want to be mothers. Criminalization also exacerbates inequality among women: those with higher incomes are able to seek procedures in safe and expensive clinics or travel to countries where abortion is legalized when they cannot carry a pregnancy forward. To make the same decision, the most vulnerable women – poor, young, with little education, black and indigenous – are at health risk and risk of being arrested or even killed.

The year 2018 is already historic in women’s fight for respect for their reproductive decisions. In May, Ireland decided in a referendum to make a constitutional change that would allow them to reform their law on abortion, which has been banned in the country since 1983. In June, the Argentinian House of Deputies approved a bill to legalize abortion on request up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and allow a range of legal grounds after 14 weeks. The approval was marked by the cheering of tens of thousands of Argentinians in the streets, who support the law reform by wearing and waving green handkerchiefs. The bill will be debated in the Senate on August 8th, soon after the end of the Brazilian Supreme Court public hearing.

Festival for Women’s Lives

From August 3rd to 6th, while the Supreme Court is listening to the experts on abortion, the Festival Pela Vida das Mulheres (Festival for Women’s Lives) will take place in the National Museum square in Brasilia, 2km from the Court. The event is being publicized online with two hashtags: #NemPresaNemMorta, which means “Neither killed nor jailed”, and #NemUmaAMenos, which means “No woman left behind”.

The event will feature a big screen for projection of the hearing for those who want to follow the testimonies outdoors, as well as cultural presentations, concerts and thematic debates on ADPF 442, reproductive justice, secularism of the state and the struggle for legalization of abortion in Latin America. The Festival is organized by a coalition of feminist movements, and will have space for children and a fair.

Facts about abortion

  • According to the Pesquisa Nacional do Aborto (National Abortion Survey), of the total number of women who have had abortions in Brazil, it is estimated that 3 million have children. If the criminal law was strictly enforced, today there would be 3 million families whose mothers would have been or would still be in prison for the crime of abortion.
  • The prohibition of abortion does not prevent its practice. In Brazil, the 500,000 women who have abortions every year prove this. Criminal law does not reduce the number of abortions. What reduces abortions are the same measures that reduce unplanned pregnancies: comprehensive sex education, access to a range of modern contraceptive methods, good quality sexual and reproductive health services, and prevention of sexual violence.
  • In countries where abortion is legalized, the number of abortions tends to fall. Romania, Portugal and France are examples of this. This happens because when abortion is treated as a reproductive health need, health services take better care of women without the threat of arrest or stigma. Then, it is possible to understand why the unplanned pregnancy happened and therefore prevent it from happening again.
  • The termination of pregnancy in the first 12 weeks is a very safe procedure, with a very low risk of complications that would require women to seek care in hospitals. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that, up to nine weeks’ pregnancy, medical abortion can take place in the woman’s home, with adequate medical advice and access to the medications, and would guarantee greater privacy and well-being for the woman. Reliable international studies also show that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between safe abortions and an increased risk of infertility, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, fetal malformation, cancer, or mental distress.


For more information on the debate on the decriminalization of abortion in Brazil, the following experts can be contacted:

Melania Amorim, obstetrician and professor at the Federal University of Campina Grande, Paraíba – profmelania.amorim@gmail.com

Thomaz Gollop, obstetrician, maternal-fetal medicine expert and professor at the Medical School of Jundiaí, São Paulo – secretaria@medicinafetal.com.br

José Henrique Torres, judge of the 1st Court of the Jury of Campinas, São Paulo, and professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas – jhtorres@terra.com.br

Sonia Correa, researcher and feminist activist, coordinator of the observatory Sexuality Policy Watch – soniacorrea@globo.com

Paula Viana, nurse, feminist activist and coordinator of Grupo Curumim, Gestação e Parto, Recife, Pernambuco – paulaviana@grupocurumim.org.br

Joluzia Batista, sociologist and coordinator of the Centro Feminista de Estudos e Assessoria (CFEMEA), Brasília, Federal District – joluzia@cfemea.org.br

Françoise Girard, lawyer by training and expert on women’s health, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition – press inquiries to Liza Kane-Hartnett – lkanehartnett@iwhc.org

Sebastian Rodríguez Alarcón, international human rights lawyer, currently program manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, Center for Reproductive Rights – press inquiries to Veronika Cernadas – vcernadas@reprorights.org

Margaret Wurth, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch – +1-484-554-3194 (mobile) or wurthm@hrw.org or Twitter: @MargaretWurth

César Muñoz, senior researcher on Brazil for Human Rights Watch – +55-11-999-563-100 (mobile); or munozc@hrw.org or Twitter: @_Cesar_Munoz

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