Reproductive Rights

At least 125 countries have highly restrictive abortion laws, including some with outright bans with no exceptions. These laws and the restrictions on abortion services they come with seriously endanger women and girls. Beyond the clear risks to their health and well being, we have seen women charged with abortion when they have miscarriages; for activity during their pregnancy that could impact the foetus. Women have also had abortion laws used against them in politically motivated cases.


Brazil's Criminalization of Abortion

REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Those most likely to be prosecuted for abortion in Brazil—Black and brown women from low-income communities—face significant challenges in defending themselves in court, according to a report by TrialWatch partners. Based on an analysis of 167 judicial decisions from 12 Brazilian courts, the report found that the women prosecuted were regularly referred for prosecution by the medical practitioners to whom they went for life-saving care. This report comes against the backdrop of efforts to further restrict the already tenuous right to abortion in Brazil, which has the highest estimated frequency of abortions in the world.

Criminalization of abortion – already a violation of human rights law – leads to other violations including gender and racial discrimination. This study, a timely warning to us in the U.S., shows these are not speculative harms.

Sarah Mehta, Columbia Law School TrialWatch project director

Prosecuted for Medical Emergencies in El Salvador

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

CFJ used TrialWatch reporting on two trials against women who were prosecuted for aggravated homicide for obstetric emergencies in El Salvador to intervene with partners in a critical case at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The case was brought on behalf of Manuela, a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in El Salvador on similar charges, and died in custody. In late 2021, the Inter-American Court issued its decision that the criminal process had been infected by the “use of gender stereotypes and preconceptions,” agreeing with our brief. The court ordered there be $200,000 compensation for the victims, legal reforms on women’s healthcare in El Salvador, increased privacy protections, and training for people working in the justice sector to prevent such abuses in the future.

Manuela’s story, and those of Evelyn, Diana whose cases we monitored, are not one-off, horrific events. They are a few examples of a systemic issue within El Salvador’s justice system.

Read the Fairness Reports on the cases here.

Read a TrialWatch opinion piece here.

There is no doubt that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency […] Such situations, as they are medical conditions, cannot lead to a criminal sanction.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Targeted with Abortion Charges for Journalism in Morocco

Hajar Raissouni was sentenced to a year in prison for premarital sex and having an abortion. TrialWatch monitored her trial. Ms. Raissouni said the police seemed more interested in her journalistic work than the charges at hand when they interrogated her, and the unfair laws gave them an opportunity to persecute her. Critics said the charges were concocted to crack down on criticism of the government. Hajar was pardoned after TrialWatch spoke out regarding her conviction.

Read the full Fairness Report on her trial here.

Authorities forced Ms. Raissouni to undergo a nonconsensual medical examination, in violation of her right to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The police also failed to inform Ms. Raissouni of her rights at the time of her arrest and denied her access to a lawyer.

TrialWatch Fairness Report

Pregnant Girls Denied Education

REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

In several African countries, there are laws and policies banning pregnant or married girls from attending school. In many others, pregnant or married girls are suspended from their studies and face arduous barriers to re-entry. These expulsions cause severe and long-term harms to the girls concerned, as well as to their families and communities. By preventing young women from accessing their right to an education, these laws punish young women and limit their social and economic potential. In cases where the women involved did not become married or pregnant by choice, these educational bans cause aggravated harm, stigmatization, and revictimization.

CFJ’s Waging Justice for Women project is working with African civil society organizations to challenge these discriminatory laws and policies.

These expulsions therefore deprive tens of thousands of schoolgirls across Tanzania of an opportunity to complete their education ... Thousands of pregnant girls are either expelled or drop out in anticipation of being expelled following humiliating forced pregnancy tests.

Amicus brief submitted by CFJ to the African Court of Human and People's Rights