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Abortion inquiry in Brazil may threaten access to information

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that calls for a government inquiry into the funding of civil society organisations that work to promote safe abortion and campaign for the legalisation of abortion in Brazil are part of attempts to restrict public debate on the issue and are an attack on freedom of expression.

The Evangelical Parliamentary Front and the Mixed Parliamentary Front in Defense of Life have called for a parliamentary inquiry commission to investigate the international interests and funding of organisations working to promote abortion. Those supporting calls for the inquiry have argued that those who are funding this work may be guilty of the crime of 'promoting illegal activities' in Brazil, where abortion is a criminal offence unless sanctioned in exceptional circumstances.

ARTICLE 19 believes the demands for an inquiry of this kind, which targets only organisations that work on reproductive rights, is part of an attempt to restrict their activities and prevent the free flow of information about reproductive choices in the country. ARTICLE 19 urges the Brazilian government to respect international standards on freedom of expression and take positive steps to ensure that all women in Brazil have access to comprehensive information on reproductive health, which includes information about safe abortion as well as arguments in favour and against the legalisation of abortion.

Congressional deputies João Campos and Salvador Zimbaldi called for the inquiry on April 10th, 2013. Claiming that the CPI intends to determine “(...) why minority sectors of the population [those who - allegedly - support the legalisation of abortion] are so heavily funded by foreign organizations to implement an agenda that is established outside of Brazil, without any democratic participation (...)."

The motion calling for the inquiry was approved by 178 deputies and is now in line behind 19 other commissions, which are due to convene this year.

Supporters of the inquiry have argued that the Brazilian people are strongly opposed to the legalisation of abortion, and therefore opposed to projects promoting abortion or studying the issue. They argue that such activities are therefore anti-democratic foreign interventions.

"Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that protects the free flow of ideas and opinions in society. This includes ideas that might be considered controversial or immoral by some parts of society. The Brazilian authorities must support the role of civil society organisations in promoting the right to reproductive health, not limit it. The authorities must not cast off this obligation merely because a certain part of the population finds their activities 'immoral'", said Paula Martins, ARTICLE 19's Director for South America.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the CPI is being used as a vehicle to try and censor debates concerning the criminalisation of abortion in Brazil, by initiating a witch hunt against civil society organisations that receive foreign funding and promoting the idea that any discussion about the legalisation of abortion could amount to the offence of 'incitement of a crime', which is prohibited by the Brazilian Penal Code.

“There is a fundamental difference between expressing an opinion and inciting others to commit a crime. Legalisation of abortion requires ongoing public debate. Only a broad discussion on this issue, with the effective participation of different groups with different views and opinions, can inform the decision of the Parliament”, added Martins.

Any restriction to the provision of information about abortion would be an unreasonable restriction to public health information that could have a detrimental impact on all of society. Abortions are permitted in Brazil when a woman has been raped or faces severe health risks from continuing with a pregnancy. Information about safe abortions is therefore crucial for the benefit of not only these women, but their families also. Poorly performed abortions are the fifth largest cause of death among mothers in Brazil. Abortion is therefore an issue of great public importance and the free flow of information about abortion is crucial.

ARTICLE 19 supports transparency in civil society organisations and governments but is concerned that this inquiry is politically motivated, specifically targeting groups working to provide information about abortion in a way that could be used to threaten and censor these groups.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Brazilian government to respect and promote the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to receive and impart information, including information about public health issues such as abortion.

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