A women's rights activist in in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the words "legalize abortion" painted on her stomach in Portuguese

Americas: Brazil can become the next country to step up to guarantee the right to abortion

To mark International Safe Abortion Day on 28 September, Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International, said:

“Despite the green wave’s numerous victories in the Americas over the last few years, the rights gained and the opportunities to expand abortion protections are under attack by anti-rights actors. The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States last year was a wakeup call for the movement, reminding us once more that the fight to defend and expand our rights must be ongoing.”

“Brazil has the opportunity to join the green wave and recognize the right to access a safe and legal abortion for women, girls, and all people who can become pregnant. For decades, the criminalization of abortion has violated our sexual and reproductive rights, and disproportionately discriminated against women who are Black, Indigenous and living in poverty. It is time for the Supreme Federal Court to end this injustice.”

Further Information:

The “green wave” is the adopted name of the feminist and human rights movement that has been fighting for years to legalize abortion throughout Latin America. This movement has driven important progress, but setbacks remain a risk in the region.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade has exacerbated a sexual and reproductive health crisis in the United States, while 21 states have partially or completely restricted access to pregnancy interruption. Several states such as Ohio, Kentucky and Montana have managed to stop the initiatives against abortion through the legislature or elections. However, anti-rights groups continue to push for new bans in the states and are now aiming to restrict medical abortion and hinder—when not criminalising—interstate networks of solidarity that have emerged to help people seeking an abortion.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States last year was a wakeup call for the movement, reminding us once more that the fight to defend and expand our rights must be ongoing.

Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International

In Argentina, a country key to the advancement of the green wave, nearly three years after the December 2020 historic legalisation of abortion, there have been notable improvements in figures linked to maternal mortality, demonstrating once more that liberalizing the legal interruption of a pregnancy protects both health and life. Although there is still some resistance to implementation throughout the country, it is essential that, in the electoral context, the importance of defending rights already gained be reinforced and access to effective abortion be guaranteed.

In Brazil, the coming days could be decisive in advancing the decriminalization of abortion until 12 weeks of gestation through a vote reopened in the Supreme Federal Court by the minister and president, Rosa Weber, who, before retiring, voted in favour of reproductive rights for women, girls, and all people seeking access to abortion. In Brazil, according to official figures, one in 28 people trying to abort die from doing so in unsafe conditions. In this context, racial inequalities are evident: Black women are two times more likely to die during an unsafe abortion since they are 46% more likely to have one in the first place. So they are differentially exposed to risks to their health, life and dignity due to the criminalisation of abortion. Abortion in Brazil continues to be a crime, as per the 1940 Penal Code, except in cases of statutory rape and anencephaly. Although there are legal prerogatives to guarantee access in these cases, women face disinformation and barriers to access and care in health centers.

A little more than a year after securing the right to abortion in Colombia, several legal challenges have been presented to overturn decriminalization. The court upheld the ruling by dismissing the nullities on the ruling that decriminalized abortion; but a couple of lawsuits have led to additional barriers for indigenous women. At the same time, there were irregularities reported in a referendum that proposes to constitutionally restrict abortion. Ultimately, effective access to abortion in Colombia continues to be limited by a lack of information or disinformation by anti-rights groups, medical malpractice, including misuse of conscientious objection, and a lack of centres offering the procedure. 

Brazil has the opportunity to join the green wave and recognize the right to access a safe and legal abortion for women, girls, and all people who can become pregnant.

Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International

Mexico is another country experiencing significant progress: decisions from the highest court determined that the outright criminalisation of abortion is unconstitutional; and they decriminalized abortion in the federal penal code. Thus, the right to abortion in Mexico was recognized and federal health institutions where mandated to guarantee it. Locally, 12 states have now completely decriminalized abortion or decriminalized it before a certain number of weeks. However, two thirds of the country continue to have local restrictions in force and where it is not allowed, there is still a way to go to guarantee access. Four years after decriminalization, Oaxaca only has seven clinics that offer the procedure and often there is a lack of equipment or supplies to carry out the procedure.

Peru, which only allows therapeutic abortion, has also faced threats. Various bills have sought to remove or hinder therapeutic abortion in Peru, disregarding that, according to official figures from 2021, every day four girls under 15 were forced to become mothers. On this topic, in June 2023, the Committee on the Rights of the Child determined that the Peruvian state violated the rights to life, health and integrity for Camila, an indigenous girl who was a victim of rape and denied access to therapeutic abortion.

In the cases of Chile and Puerto Rico, there have been attempts and even bills to restrict abortion on certain grounds or due to age. Meanwhile, the majority party of the Constitutional Council in Chile, the Republican Party, has spoken out against the law regulating abortion in cases of rape, fetal non-viability and danger to people’s lives. To date, they have presented initiatives to eliminate abortion protections; and they reportedly seek to impose restrictions through constitutional channels as well.

El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, Surinam, Aruba and Curaçao continue their complete criminalization of abortion. This does not curtail the practice, but only puts people seeking abortions at risk, disproportionately affecting impoverished, racialised, campesino, Indigenous and Afro-descendent people. Before the partial decriminalization on certain grounds in Ecuador, at least 148 people had been criminalized for having, accompanying or assisting abortions. Thirty-three girls were among them.

In the specific case of El Salvador, figures from local organizations indicate that at least 181 women were criminalized for obstetric emergencies that resulted in abortions between 1998 and 2019; seven reportedly still face criminal proceedings.

Ultimately, throughout the region, hounding and harassment from anti-rights actors, and even criminalization of people accompanying abortions or people seeking to abort, creates an environment of anxiety, disinformation and discouragement that in itself is a barrier to exercising the right to abortion.