Sexuality Policy Watch

Sexual politics in September 2019

September 28 – “Abortion is a Health Issue” was the theme of this year’s International Safe Abortion Day, widely celebrated around the world (see compilation). On this occasion, a letter forwarded by the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion gathered signatures from around the world, including Brazil. The letter repudiated attempts to restrict sexual and reproductive rights in international resolutions led by the US, Brazil and other countries recommending that during the forum celebrating 25 years of the International Conference on Population and Development (Nairobi, November 2019) the right to safe abortions be recognized.

At the plenary meeting of the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, a joint statement was presented by the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI), signed by over 300 organizations and 500 people, which put the right to abortion on the UN’s reproductive justice agenda. The plenary meeting also included a side event concentrating on this theme (watch here).

The International Gynecology and Obstetrics Federation (FIGO) joined the #MyAbortionMyHealth campaign, arguing that abortion is a very safe medical procedure.

In Brazil, the Festival for Women’s Lives was celebrated around the country, in Bahia, Paraíba, Paraná, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo. A video produced by the Trenches Project was shown: “For Women’s Lives in the Supreme Court Debate”. This brought together the principal arguments mobilized during the public hearings on ADPF 442 in the Brazilian Supreme Court in August 2018, which discussed the decriminalization of abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy. A systematic compilation of media-reported abortion news and articles from January 2018 to today was also published by Abortion in the Media for public consultation (read in Portuguese). We believe this may be an interesting resource for further research into the abortion issue and we have done a preliminary analysis of it, producing an infographic.

Abortion and Reproductive Rights


On occasion of the 28th of September, feminist news outlet Gênero & Número published a special series of articles on the right to abortion which reveals that every two days a woman is prosecuted for abortion in Brazil, mainly due to breaches of medical confidentiality. These women are predominantly black and single mothers with no criminal record. The articles also show that 2019 was a very prolific year for anti-abortion bills: 28 bills have so far been proposed, of which 43% intend to criminalize the practice in all circumstances. The Integralist (Brazilian fascist) Catholic congressman Chris Tonietto (PSL/RJ) proposed three projects, being the main elected representative to proposing anti-abortion laws in the Brazilian Congress.

On September 18, the feminist news outlet AzMina published an article entitled “How a safe abortion is performed”. This gives information about the pharmacological procedure recommended by the World Health Organization. Brazilian Minister Damares Alves immediately reacted to the article, tweeting that she had asked the Public Prosecutor’s office to investigate the authors for “supporting a crime”. In Rio de Janeiro, National Secretary for Maternity Policies Sara Winter also filed an inquiry with the Prosecutor’s office, accusing the web magazine of “inciting abortion”. These threats of censorship were criticized in an editorial in the Folha de São Paulo and by Fausto Macedo in an article in the Estadão. The Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) also issued a statement against the threat of censorship. A few days later, Minister Alves published an article in response in newspaper Folha de São Paulo reaffirming her position of the right to life “from conception” and claiming that she was not trying to censor the press but to prevent health problems. This argument was answered by Sonia Corrêa, Juana Kweitel, and Denise Dora in an article published in O Globo newspaper.

The Intercept published an article revealing that a measure approved by the Federal Council of Medicine and published on September 16 excluding women’s right to refuse pre-abortion therapy. The measure states that the “rights of the fetus” should take priority over women’s physical and mental integrity. According to feminist physician Melânia Amorim, this definition opens the way for other obstetric practices in line with the language proposed by Brazil’s “Statute of the Unborn“.


Mexico made history this September by passing legislation that decriminalizes abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy for any cause in Oaxaca State (read in Spanish). In the rest of Mexico, except Mexico City, abortion is only allowed in cases of fetal malformation, risk of death of the mother, and rape. Even then, access is still difficult. In the country, unsafe abortion is the fourth cause of maternal death. Oaxaca stands out for being one of the entities that reported the highest maternal mortality rate (44.3 per 100,000) in 2016.

 El Salvador

Evelyn Beatríz Hernández, sentenced to 30 years in prison for involuntary abortion in 2017 and having her sentence overturned in August this year, will return to court after an appeal to the Supreme Court.


The case of Lucía — an 11-year-old girl who was raped and was denied an abortion, even though the law provides for this in cases of rape — against the province of Tucuman in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received a public statement by the Argentine state admitting that her rights were violated. Lucia’s case is possibly similar to that of the 2,500 girls and 91,600 teenagers who give birth each year in Argentina. The case was presented to the Commission in March of this year. Lucia’s supporters call for the forced pregnancy of girls under 14 to be included in the Penal Code as torture and for abortion rights health standards to be adopted in all provinces of the country.

Asia and Oceania


After more than 70 hours of discussions in the legislator and protests in New South Wales, Australia, legislation has been passed that decriminalizes abortion, overturning a 119-year law. Abortion had already been decriminalized in other parts of Australia, such as Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Australian capital. It was also legal for some medical reasons in South Australia. Abortion was removed from the penal code and allowed up to the 22nd week. Later abortions are permitted if two doctors agree that they are necessary.


The revision of the countries penal code, which originated in Dutch colonial law, was finally presented by Congress on September 15th. Society’s expectation for substantial changes, however, has not been met. To the contrary: the reform adopts more conservative views of Sharia law and includes proposals that threaten human rights, including the absolute criminalization of abortion and “lewd acts” The reform sparked protests across the country on the 23rd and 24th of September, which were met with violence on the part of authorities, leading to the arrest and death of protesters.


A study of the Pratigya Campaign for Gender Equality and Safe Abortion analyzed barriers to chemically induced medical abortions in the states of Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh as an effect of laws against “selective abortions”.



Research has revealed the deleterious effects of the criminalization of abortion, undertaken in 2017. Each day, three women die in the country as a result of unsafe abortions, while abortion is punishable by up to ten years in prison.


On September 9th, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest in front of the Supreme Court in defense of journalist Hajar Raissouni of the independent daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum, who was arrested in August on charges of “late abortion”. The case had high visibility in the media and was the subject of Amnesty International and HRW campaigns. On October 2nd, Raissouni was sentenced to a year in prison.



The Turkish Security Department demanded that health professionals reveal the names of those who carried out abortions between 2017 and 2019 as part of an investigation against terrorism. The measure aggravates the restrictions on abortion being imposed by the Erdogan administration.

Foreign Policy and Human Rights


On September 24th, JMB made his debut at the United Nations. In his address to the UN General Assembly, JMB presented the “new Brazil” that his administration has been building, a backward and “family-oriented” country. The regressive stance on gender and sexuality that the president’s administration has been presenting in international fora was reiterated when JMB said he wanted to protect the “biological identity” of children (he did not, however, make explicit mentions to gender in his speech). The president continued by questioning the legal status of Brazil’s indigenous lands, announcing that he would not demarcate these lands. He also pointed out Brazil’s decreasing homicide rate, but forgot to mention the country’s increasing police lethality. Through its unseemly attacks on other countries, JMB’s speech in front of the UN further undermined Brazil’s credibility, contributing to the country’s isolation, as Conectas has argued.

The president’s rude tone was extensively covered by the national and international media (see compilation), but it obscured the political connections that were made before the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly. Signed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, a letter was internationally circulated formalizing a coalition aimed at banning any mention of abortion, sexual, and reproductive rights from UN resolutions while “reaffirming the family”.  Read the letter in The Washington Post. Signatories of the letter include Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The Netherlands Minister of Foreign Trade, Sigrid Kaag, made a strong statement on behalf of the 58 countries that rejected this action.

At the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Brazil presented a partial report on the country’s assessment in the 2017 UN Universal Periodic Review. The document was widely criticized by Brazilian social organizations (see a compilation). A report conducted by Conectas reveals that only one of the 242 recommendations made in 2017 has been met. The UPR collective, which brings together human rights organizations, prepared a shadow report, questioning the Brazilian government’s official statements. This report included contributions by ABIA and SPW.

The Brazilian LGBTI Association (ABGLT) requested access to documents instructing Brazilian diplomats on gender and sexuality issues, as prescribed in the Law of Access to Information. The Foreign Ministry denied this request, arguing that providing the documents would undermine Brazil’s national sovereignty. ABGLT then filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court to challenge the guidance issued by the Foreign Ministry regarding the concept of gender employed by the current administration, defined as “biological sex: male and female.”  (Read more here)


At the opening of the UN General Assembly, following his Brazilian ally, Trump made a speech to his constituency rejecting the right to abortion.

Antigender politics

New Features – SPW is pleased to announce that the #PoliticasAntigenero video series, originally published in Spanish, now has subtitles in Portuguese. #PoliticsAntigenero explores the main aspects of anti-gender offensives, their antecedents, eruptions, definitions, contexts, actors, strategies, effects, and the resistance they generate. Watch these on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram .

Gênero & Número has launched The Sacred Kingdom of Disinformation, a special series on religious conservatism that features an interview with Judith Butler as well as other articles, and a map of the terms employed by these actors on Twitter. SPW thanks Judith Butler for allowing us to publish the original interview in English and to translate it into Spanish.


Amid his blatant decline in popularity, JMB tweeted that he had ordered the Ministry of Education to draft a bill to ban the spread of “gender ideology” in elementary schools. A potential side effect of the presidential proposal is speeding up the processing of similar matters in Congress, which might extend to a ban on the dissemination of gender theory at other educational levels. Read SPW’s note on the episode.

In São Paulo, Governor João Doria (PSDB/SP) requested the confiscation of a booklet that addressed issues such as sexually transmitted diseases, condom use, teenage pregnancy, sexual diversity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In response to protests, the state prosecutor initiated an inquiry and suspended the governor’s decision.  Governor Carlos Moses (PSL/SC), meanwhile, made a statement on YouTube that he would ban “gender ideology” in the state’s public education system, a position rejected in a joint public note signed by scientific and human rights organizations.

In Rio de Janeiro, Mayor Marcelo Crivella (PRB/RJ) issued a censorship order against an issue of The Avengers comic book, sold at Rio’s Biannual Book Fair, because it showed two men kissing. In response, youtuber Felipe Neto challenged Crivella publicly and bought thousands of copies of the comic, distributing them for free. The justice system behaved erratically, however, first suspending the measure as unconstitutional, then allowing it following the decision of a conservative judge. The episode had widespread international repercussions.

Augusto Aras took office as the new Attorney General of the Republic on October 2nd. This appointment by JMB broke protocol, ignoring the list of three nominations sent to him by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. Prior to his appointment, the new Attorney General committed himself to the National Association of Evangelical Jurists’ anti-gender agenda. Prior to this, Aras had made public statements against “gender ideology” and the right to abortion.

In Brazil’s society

The Brazilian Baptist Convention and the Bacacheri Baptist Church in Curitiba (PR) published the comic book Hail to Difference, written by psychologist and “conversion therapist” Marisa Lobo in order to combat “gender ideology” and teach children “biological truths” and constitutional rights through Bible lessons. The text cites the Vatican’s most recent document on the subject, Male and Female He Created Them.

During the election for leadership of the Federal Board of Psychology (CFP), as revealed by Agência Pública, the Psychologists in Action group, led by Rozangela Alves, an advocate of the “sexual conversion” therapy who is opposed to “gender ideology”, received the endorsement of JMB’s daughter-in-law, Minister Damares Alves, and the Secretariat of Global Protection. The result of the election was unfavorable to the group, however, which received only 4500 votes compared to the 44,000 received by the winning group, the Front for the Defense of Brazilian Psychology. The winning group recognizes structural differences in mental health and advocates for psychiatric reform.

The American Capitol Ministries, an organization of evangelical ministers supported by US Vice President Mike Pence, which promotes Bible studies for lawmakers and executive authorities, opened a branch in Brazil with a Senate hearing on August 15th.

Gender Policies


In late August, in Boston, a “straight pride” parade drew more than 1,000 counter-protesters. Far right activist Milo Yiannopoulos was the “grand marshal” of the event, organized by the group Super Happy Fun America (SHFA), which had only a few hundred participants.

European Commission

Future Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, who takes over in November, has proposed a portfolio called Democracy and Demography, which will be headed by conservative Croatian member of the Europarliament, Dubravka Suica. This promises to be a chance to implement extremely regressive sexual and reproductive rights policies.

The Spanish newspaper El Diario is publishing an investigative series relating stories of the intense lobbying undertaken by Catholic and evangelical organizations such as the American ADF, the Spanish CitizenGo, and also Vatican representatives within the structures of the European Union, aimed at promoting anti-gender and anti-abortion political agendas in the name of “religious freedom”.


In Uruguay, a coalition of religious and conservative deputies proposed the Parental Rights and Sexual Education Bill. The bill’s text states that Sex Education implemented by the National Education Association (ANEP) violates the principle of state secularity by disrespecting family privacy.


The Third Demography Summit was held in Budapest, Hungary, hosted by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, bringing together leaders from various countries, religious and non-religious organizations, and civil society organizations. The over-arching theme of the conference was the fall of fertility in European countries, but it discussed family erosion, abortion, and the threat of migration. According to Orbán, migrants do not solve Europe’s demographic dilemma, whose solution lies in the encouragement of procreation of native-born citizens and the defense of the family.  On this occasion, Brazil was represented by Minister Damares Alves from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights. On twitter, the Minister stated that she will create a group of “family-friendly” countries within the United Nations.


On September 11th, Argentine Catholic bishops published a 20-page document entitled “The God of Life and Human Love,” repudiating the spread of “gender ideology” (read it in Spanish).

For the first time, Argentine public television gave space to evangelical churches and a new TV program called “Good News”, led by the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches of the Argentine Republic (ACIERA), was created, beginning broadcasting on September 7th.

On October 3rd, the Argentine Ministry of Education of the province of Corrientes dismissed the dean of the Valentin Virasoro Normal School for lending school space to the Second Provincial Transfeminist Meeting, held on September 28th. This measure was justified in the resolution issued by the Ministry, because the Dean supposedly “failed to respect the teaching career, morals, and proper customs”. The teachers’ union and the feminist movement linked to the event organized a demonstration together and filed a joint appeal to overturn the measure.


The Spanish organization Hazte Oír decided to award Argentine anti-gender theorists Agustin Laje and Nicolás Márquez, authors of “The Black Book of the New Left”, during the 16th edition of #PremiosHO.


A series of “religious freedom”-related lawsuits filed in the US Supreme Court indicate that the court has become a breeding ground for conservative religious advocacy. This is apparently due to its new profile since Kavanaugh joined the Court, as The New York Times argues.

Global institutions


The Vatican has broadened or slightly influenced its influence on the Organization of American States. On September 16th, an office dedicated exclusively to the institution’s presence in the OAS was inaugurated, taking on Monsignor Mark Gerard Miles as a new permanent observer.


International and Regional Human Rights System

At the 41st session of the UN CHR, the mandate of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was renewed. There were 27 votes in favor, 12 against, and 7 abstentions.

For the first time, a trans woman’s demand for justice was presented to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, at a hearing held on August 27th. A court heard the case of Azul Rojas Marín, arbitrarily detained and tortured by police. The court condemned the Peruvian state for failing to investigate the complaint with due diligence, regarding this as aggravating discrimination against LGBTI people.

Latin America and the Caribbean


Oaxaca became the 20th Mexican state to approve same-sex marriage by state assembly vote. The new law follows the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. The Confraternity of Evangelical Ministers of Oaxaca publicly argued against the provision and presented a demand for a referendum to be held to invalidate the vote.

Bermuda held its first LGBT Pride march on August 31st. The party paid tribute to activists and lawmakers who, over the past quarter century, have defended the decriminalization of homosexuality.


 In São Paulo, a bill presented by Congresswoman Erica Malunguinho (PSOL) was amended by Janaina Paschoal (PSL). This bill bans hormone therapy and reassignment surgery for children under 21 years of age. Although widely criticized, the PSL congresswoman maintained her position.

In response to a challenge to Law No. 6160/2018, which defines “family” as a union between a man and a woman through marriage or common-law marriage, the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that any and all language in the Civil Code that can be used to discriminate against same-sex couples is unconstitutional.


The State Legislature of Victoria in Australia passed a bill that allows trans and non-binary people to change their birth certificates without any medical or legal requirement. This bill was the result of years of trans activism.


In Kosovo, the National Court of Appeals approved a request on August 2nd for a transgender citizen to change their name and gender in civil records.

London held its first Trans Pride March on September 15th.

Unfortunately, though, in Serbia, the Ministry of Health has banned in vitro fertilization for people with a history of homosexual relations in the past five years, who are now prohibited from donating “reproductive cells”.

In Ukraine, an LGBT march on 16th September in Kharviv was the target of violent demonstrations by neo-Nazi and right-wing groups on. According to activists, the national media ignored the attacks.

The report from the European Social Survey reveals that homophobia has increased in European countries that do not legally recognize same-sex relationships, while acceptance of gays and lesbians has increased in states where homosexual marriage is permitted. Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine saw gay and lesbian acceptance decline between 2002 and 2016.


The Trump administration followed an extremely hard-line when, on August 24th, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to declare that federal law allowed private companies to lay off workers based on their sexual orientation, arguing that the original language used in Civil Rights Law refers to discrimination between “biological sexes”.

Women’s rights

On the 18th, JMB sanctioned Law N. 13871 — introduced in 2009 and passed by both houses in March 2019 — which proposes that male perpetrators of gender-based violence reimburse public health and safety expenses for victims’ care. As noted by anthropologist Isabela Oliveira Kalil, this type of measure consolidates the perception, among JMB’s electoral base, that he is a benefactor and protector of women.


The controversy over the sexual conduct of US Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh was rekindled by the New York Times, which published stories leveling new charges at the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Sexuality & Art

Because it was International Safe Abortion Day, SPW features the work of Brazilian artist Aleta Valente ‘Ex-Miss Febem‘.

We recommend

Papers and articles

Interview with Judith Butler: “Knowledge against fear” – SPW

David Paternotte | Gender Studies and the Dismantling of Critical Knowledge in Europe – AAUP

Kristina Hänel: “Everyone is concerned when it comes to abortions” – Feministeerium

The Trump Administration’s Willful Misinterpretation of UN Policy – Rewire

Manuela Picq | Bolivia is burning. Who will stop its fires? – The New York Times

How ‘family-friendly’ are European countries? – Social Europe

Polish Liberals Embraced Austerity – And the Nationalist Rights is Beneffiting – Jacobin Magazine

Meet the Money Behind the Climate Denial Movement – Smithsonian

How LGBT rights became a key battleground in Poland’s election – LSE Blog

The neoliberal fuel to the anti-gender movement – IPS

Staring through the mocking glass: Three misperceptions of the east-west divide since 1989 – Eurozine

Gendering dissent – Eurozine


UPR Database on Recommendations – SRI

Sexual Rights Law and Policy Database – SRI

Sexual Rights & The Universal Periodic Review: A Toolkit for Advocates – SRI

Check it out!

Assistant Professor in Global Race/Ethnicity and Inequality, Department of Global Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Apply by November 1st.


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