Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

J.A.H. v. Attorney General's Office Supreme Court (2011)

Statutory rape or defilement

The defendant, 52 years old, appealed a conviction stemming from the rape of a 13-year-old girl. The victim became pregnant following the assault, and the defendant supplied her with pills to prevent intestinal worms. The pills resulted in the victim experiencing minor bleeding.  Following a trial, the defendant was sentenced to prison for 15 years for aggravated rape and four years for attempted abortion. On appeal, the defendant argued that there had been no aggravated rape as the sexual intercourse was consensual and the claimant was unaware of the law prohibiting sexual intercourse with minors. Furthermore, the defendant argued that he sought to create a family with the victim. Concerning abortion, the accused argued that there was neither evidence demonstrating that the accused had the proper mens rea for the crime to arise, nor that the pills he provided could actually inflict an abortion on the victim. While the Court dismissed the defendant’s arguments regarding the rape, it held that the defendant was improperly convicted of attempted abortion. The Court found that the defendant did not possess the requisite means rea, nor did he engage in “unequivocal actions” of an attempt to inflict an abortion demonstrated.

El acusado, de 52 años de edad, apeló una condena por la violación de una niña de 13 años. La víctima quedó embarazada después del asalto, y el acusado le suministró pastillas para prevenir los gusanos intestinales. Las pastillas dieron como resultado que la víctima experimentara un sangrado menor. Tras un juicio, el acusado fue condenado a prisión durante 15 años por violación agravada y a cuatro años por intento de aborto. En la apelación, el acusado argumentó que no hubo violación agravada debido a que la relación sexual fue consensual y que él desconocía la ley que prohíbe las relaciones sexuales con menores. Además, el acusado argumentó que intentaba crear una familia con la víctima. En relación al aborto, el acusado dijo que no había pruebas que demostraran que él tenía los medios adecuados para que surgiera el delito, ni que las píldoras que él proporcionó podían infligir un aborto a la víctima. Mientras que la Corte desestimó los argumentos del acusado con respecto a la violación, la corte concluyó que él fue condenado indebidamente por intento de aborto. El Tribunal determinó que el acusado no poseía los medios necesarios, ni se involucró en "acciones inequívocas" con un intento demostrado de infligir un aborto.

Public Ministry v. Busudu Tina Court of Greater Instance of Bukavu (1995)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Gender discrimination

Busudu Tina (“the accused”) was prosecuted by the State for having aborted her pregnancy, punishable under Articles 165 and 166 of the Congolese Penal Code.  She attempted to abort her pregnancy using different methods, including ingesting quinine, manioc infusion, and a product described as ‘cloveganol’, and admitted to the Tribunal that she had aborted a previous pregnancy in 1991.  The Tribunal became aware of the abortion when an acquaintance, worried for the accused’s health, sought assistance despite being sworn to secrecy by the accused.  The fetus was hidden in a laundry bag, which found its way to the prosecutor’s office.  The Tribunal applied the minimum sentence of five years imprisonment, taking into account as a mitigating factor that she and her husband were estranged after six months of pregnancy. (Available at pages 128-130 on the linked website.)

Uganda v. Apunyo High Court at Lira (2004)

Statutory rape or defilement

The defendant paid for his girlfriend’s abortion and hospital expenses for the ensuing complications, after which the girlfriend’s mother discovered their sexual relationship.  The mother reported to the police that the defendant had sexual intercourse with her 17-year-old daughter, a violation of section 129(1) of the Penal Code Act Revised Laws of Uganda.  The Court found that the prosecutor did not prove the girl’s age beyond a reasonable doubt because they did not provide a birth certificate and the alleged victim believed and had previously stated that she was 19 years old. 

MKB Management Corp. v. Stenehjem Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (2015)

Gender discrimination

Red River Women’s Clinic, a subsidiary of MKB Management Corp. was the only abortion provider in the state of North Dakota. MKB Management Corp. challenged a North Dakota law which prohibited abortions following determination of fetal heartbeat. The District Court ruled that the North Dakota law infringed a woman’s constitutional right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to terminate pregnancy before viability which was established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Stuart v. Camnitz Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (2015)

Gender discrimination

North Carolina passed a law, the Right to Know Act, which required physicians in North Carolina to show a woman seeking an abortion a live-feed of her ultrasound between four and seventy-two hours before an abortion and to describe the fetus in detail including dimensions and location of the fetus. A coalition of doctors and Planned Parenthood sued the President of the North Carolina Medical Board, the Secretary of Health and Human Services for North Carolina, the American Medical Association, and other similar entities. The district court granted summary judgment and an injunction for the plaintiffs. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, citing that the requirement that doctors perform and display real-time ultrasounds was unconstitutional as it did pass intermediate scrutiny. Additionally, the requirement violated the doctor’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech as the state is delivering a message that the woman should reconsider having an abortion, albeit compelling speech through the third-party doctors.

Edwards v. Beck Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (2015)

Gender discrimination

Abortion-providing physicians in Arkansas filed a 18 USC §1983 action in District Court seeking a permanent injunction against Arkansas Code Ann §20?16?1203(a), which revokes the license of physicians who perform abortions of fetuses beyond the point when the fetal heartbeat can be detected, about 12 weeks. The physicians were granted the injunction, and the State appealed. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction, finding that this statute violated women’s right to terminate pregnancy as set out in Roe v. Wade, which allows for abortion up to the point of fetal viability. The court also notes that viability should be determined on a case-by-case basis and that viability is being pushed sooner and sooner with advancing medical research.

Sentencia T-841/11 Constitutional Court of Colombia (2011)

Gender discrimination

A twelve-year-old girl requested voluntary termination of pregnancy after having consensual sex with her boyfriend on the grounds that her mental and physical health, particularly with respect to the effects from obstetric complications, were in jeopardy as a result of the pregnancy. The healthcare provider denied her request, despite the fact that the request fulfilled legal requirements, on the grounds that the medical certificate to the girl’s health conditions was issued by a doctor who did not belong to the same healthcare provider network as the girl’s healthcare network. The pregnancy was carried to term and the girl’s mother filed a writ of constitutional challenge to enforce the girl’s right to abortion when the girl was not yet five months pregnant. After nearly a month, the Court of First Instance denied the writ, finding that the girl’s life was not in danger. The Constitutional Court ruled, however, that insurance providers and healthcare providers should not erect improper obstacles to the performance of voluntary termination of pregnancy except for the conditions established by Decision C-355 of 2006, and that they have a duty to take all necessary measures to ensure that women meeting the legal requirements under Decision C-355 of 2006 may have the procedure performed. In this case, one medical certificate would have been sufficient to clear the girl for the performance of voluntary termination of pregnancy as there was no requirement under Decision C-355 of 2006 that the medical certificate must come from doctors in the network of the healthcare provider of the girl or women requesting the procedure. The Court also ruled that the healthcare provider violated its duty to provide timely and clear diagnosis when they took almost a month to deny the request. The Court ordered the healthcare provider to pay restitution damages to the girl including all damages caused by its improper refusal to perform the procedure and any medically necessary services resulting from the birth.

Decision T-946/08 Constitutional Court of Colombia (2008)

Gender discrimination

The plaintiff’s daughter suffered from Prader Willi syndrome or Down Syndrome and was mentally disabled. The mother noticed changes in her daughter’s body and discovered that she had been pregnant as a result of rape. The mother asked the healthcare provider to terminate pregnancy and filed a writ of constitutional challenge after her request was denied by the healthcare provider on conscientious objection. The Court of First instance denied the writ on the grounds that there was no medical certificate showing that the daughter’s life was jeopardized by the pregnancy, that the fetus had deformities, or that a crime had been reported. The mother appealed the decision and stated that Decision C-355 of 2006 specifically contained a rape prong as a ground for requesting voluntary termination of pregnancy. The Court of Second Instance also denied abortion on the grounds that even though a rape may have occurred, the pregnancy had reached an advanced gestational age (25 or 26 weeks). The Constitutional Court found for the plaintiff mother and held that the healthcare provider violated the rights of the daughter, a victim of a violent sex crime. The Court ruled that conscientious objections must be made with sufficient number of professionals in a network and may only be claimed by natural persons, that the healthcare provider must provide the service in a timely manner, i.e., within five days of request (so as to not let the pregnancy be carried to term), failure to perform the procedure under discriminatory circumstances carry the consequence of investigations by the disciplinary bodies of both the healthcare provider and the lower court judges, which the Constitutional Court ordered.

Sentencia T-636/11 Constitutional Court of Colombia (2011)

Gender discrimination

In 2011, Ms. Tenjo Hernandez discovered that she was six weeks pregnant and requested voluntary termination of pregnancy based on information provided by the medical staff that her epilepsy medications could cause congenital deformities in the fetus. The doctor refused to perform the procedure unless a court order was issued. Ms. Hernandez filed a writ of constitutional challenge to enforce her rights, which the Courts of first and second instance denied based on the reasoning that Ms. Hernandez’s grounds for relief did not fall under any of the prongs of Decision C-355 of 2006 which permitted Colombian women and girls the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy. The Constitutional Court reviewed the case, despite the fact that there were not any deformities in the fetus and Ms. Hernandez had withdrawn her request for relief. The Court held that women do not carry the burden of establishing their health conditions and the status of their pregnancy; healthcare facilities and doctors are responsible to determine any fetal deformities incompatible with life outside the womb. Therefore, the Court ruled that healthcare facilities should comply with the Constitutional Court’s rulings in Decision C-355 of 2006, should not make value judgments of women who request voluntary termination of pregnancy and are prohibited from requesting court orders to perform voluntary termination of pregnancy.

Decriminalization of Abortion in Cases of Anencephaly: Claim For Disobeying a Fundamental Constitutional Dispositive No. 54/2004 (in Portuguese) Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (2012)

Gender discrimination

In 2004, the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal or “STF”) considered a claim brought by the National Trade Union of Health Workers and ANIS (Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights, and Gender) to determine whether terminating a pregnancy in which the fetus suffers from anencephaly (absence of major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp) violates the prohibition on abortion as set forth in Brazil’s Penal Code. On April 12, 2012, the STF rendered an 8-2 decision (with one abstention) that abortion in the circumstance of anencephaly is not a criminal act under the Penal Code. The majority extended a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy to cases of anecephalic fetuses because the fetus does not have the potential for a viable life outside of the womb, and to force a woman to carry such a pregnancy to term is akin to torture. Justice Marco Aurelio and the majority held that to interpret the Penal Code to prohibit such abortion would violate a woman’s constitutional guarantees of human dignity, autonomy, privacy, and the right to health. A woman therefore may seek and receive treatment to terminate the anencephalic pregnancy without risk of criminal prosecution and without judicial involvement.

Achyut Prasad Kharel v. Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and Others Supreme Court of Nepal (2008)

Gender discrimination

A petition to require consent from the woman’s husband in a law in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal allowing women to have an abortion on fetuses of less than 12 weeks cited CEDAW conventions mandating equality between men and women on matters relating to family planning. The Court dismissed the petition emphasizing that CEDAW is intended to promote and protect women’s rights and to consider the wording of equality in such absolute terms would, in fact, be contrary to this original intent. With this ruling, the Supreme Court of Nepal shows remarkable dedication to protecting and empowering women as the primary goal in interpreting legal conventions on women’s rights.

Fallo c85566 Supreme Court of Buenos Aires (2002)

Female infanticide and feticide

A married woman with three children was allowed to undergo a therapeutic abortion for an anencephalic fetus for health reasons. To do so, she had to file a request with the hospital and the court, which had a formal hearing to determine that the rights of the fetus were being respected and that the procedure was strictly for health reasons. The decision was appealed to a higher court, which affirmed the family court’s decision. They cited international law to support the decision, citing both the mother’s rights to raise a family as she saw fit and the rights of the anencephalic fetus. Along with Argentinean Supreme Court, the most cited laws were the Convención de los Derechos del Niño and the Convención Americana sobre los Derechos Humanos. While this ruling may not seem progressive by American standards, abortion is still essentially outlawed in Argentina.

A una mujer casada con tres hijos se le permitió someterse a un aborto terapéutico para un feto anencefálico por razones de salud. Para hacerlo, tuvo que presentar una solicitud ante el hospital y el tribunal, que tuvo una audiencia formal para determinar que se respetaban los derechos del feto y que el procedimiento era estrictamente por razones de salud. La decisión fue apelada ante un tribunal superior, que confirmó la decisión del tribunal de familia. Citaron el derecho internacional para respaldar la decisión, citando tanto los derechos de la madre de criar a una familia como consideraba oportuno como los derechos del feto anencefal. Junto con la Corte Suprema argentina, las leyes más citadas fueron la Convención de los Derechos del Niño y la Convención Americana sobre los Derechos Humanos. Si bien esta decisión puede no parecer progresista para los estándares estadounidenses, el aborto aún está esencialmente prohibido en Argentina.

OTS v. No Defendant Mendoza Supreme Court (2006)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

A mentally handicapped young woman was allowed to have an abortion per article 86 of the Argentinean Penal Code. The woman was impregnated through rape. Because of the woman’s mental disorders and medication issues, it was impossible to ensure a viable child and a healthy mother. This decision also declared that article 86, which allows for abortion in the case of non-viability, can be employed at a doctor’s discretion without formal court proceedings.

A una joven con discapacidad mental se le permitió abortar su embarazo, conforme con el artículo 86 del Código Penal Argentino. La mujer fue impregnada por violación. Debido a los trastornos mentales y los problemas de medicación de la mujer, era imposible garantizar un hijo viable y una madre sana. Esta decisión también declaró que el artículo 86, que permite el aborto en caso de no viabilidad, puede emplearse a discreción de un médico sin procedimientos judiciales formales.

Matter of N., R. F. Sexual Abuse San Carlos de Bariloche Supreme Court (2010)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

A seventeen-year old girl won her court petition for an abortion despite the fact that there was no issue of fetus viability. The minor had suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her father and uncle for the past six years. The court reaffirmed constitutional and human rights protections for fetuses against abortions, but explained that the right to life is not protected from conception to death with the same intensity. In this case, the fact that the pregnant minor had suffered repeated sexual abuse, had passed a psychological evaluation, and was only 11 weeks pregnant were sufficient reasons to override the presumption of protection for the fetus.

Una niña de diecisiete años ganó su petición en la corte para un aborto a pesar del hecho de que no había ningún problema de viabilidad del feto. La menor había sufrido repetidos abusos sexuales a manos de su padre y su tío durante los últimos seis años. El tribunal reafirmó las protecciones constitucionales y de derechos humanos para los fetos contra los abortos, pero explicó que el derecho a la vida no está protegido desde la concepción hasta la muerte con la misma intensidad. En este caso, el hecho de que la menor embarazada había sufrido abuso sexual repetido, había pasado una evaluación psicológica y tenía solo 11 semanas de embarazo era razón suficiente para anular la presunción de protección para el feto.

International Case Law

P. and S. v. Poland European Court of Human Rights (2012)

Sexual violence and rape

The applicants, P. and S., were daughter and mother. P., a fourteen-year-old girl, was raped and impregnated by a classmate. Abortion in Poland is available in the case of rape so in May 2008 P. received a certificate from the public prosecutor to allow her to get a legal abortion in Poland. She went to three hospitals who refused to perform the operation: one brought her to a Catholic priest—who urged her not to get an abortion—without her permission. Hospital officials issued a press release after which anti-abortion campaigners harassed P. A criminal proceeding against P. on suspicion of sexual intercourse with a minor was initiated in July 2008 but later terminated, the court finding that P. could only be considered a victim, not a perpetrator. The police then alleged that S. was trying to coerce P. into having an abortion, leading to the authorities removing P. from her mother’s custody and placing her in a juvenile shelter. The Minister of Health intervened and P. got an abortion without being an officially registered patient or receiving any post-abortion care. The European Court of Human Rights held that there was a violation of Article 8: right to respect for private and family life. The Court found that the state should ensure people’s legal rights are facilitated by procedures to fulfill those rights. The Court also found that the hospital press release of information led to interference with the applicants’ lives. The Court held that there was a violation of Article 5(1) because the separation of P. from her parents was taken to prevent abortion rather than within in the purpose of the Article, which is for educational supervision. Finally, there was a violation of Article 3: the difficulties P. met in seeking abortion and subsequent trial for intercourse with a minor constituted ill treatment.

L.M.R. v. Argentina Human Rights Committee (2007)

Sexual violence and rape

VDA, on behalf of her daughter LMR, filed a petition alleging violations of LMR’s rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The petition alleged violations of LMR’s right under article 2 (right to protection from state against violations of the rights within the ICCPR), article 3 (right to be free from discrimination), article 7 (to freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment), article 17 (freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence, or unlawful attacks on honor or reputation), and article 18 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion). At the time of the incident, LMR was 20 years old but had permanent mental disability with a mental age between 8 and 10 years old. When LMR’s mother brought her to hospital after LMR complained of pains, she discovered that LMR was raped by her uncle and was 14.5 weeks pregnant. Under section 82.6 of the Argentinean Criminal Code, abortion is legal if the pregnancy is the result of the rape of a mentally impaired woman. LMR filed a police complaint and scheduled an abortion, but the abortion was prevented by an injunction against the hospital. LMR appealed unsuccessfully to the Civil Court. The Supreme Court of Buenos Aires ruled the abortion could take place. However, under pressure from anti-abortion groups, the hospital refused to perform the abortion because her pregnancy was too far advanced. LMR eventually obtained an illegal abortion. Article 2 of the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR creates an obligation for state parties to protect individuals’ rights under the Covenant. The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that court hearings caused LMR’s abortion to be delayed to the point that she required an illegal abortion. The Committee found that although forcing LRM to endure a pregnancy that resulted from rape did not constitute torture under Article 7, it did cause physical and emotional suffering and therefore still constituted a violation of LRM’s rights under Article 7. Article 7 protects individuals from mental as well as physical suffering, and the Committee saw the violation as particularly serious given LRM’s status as a person with a disability. Further, the Committee found that because the decision of whether to proceed with an abortion should only have been made between the patient and her physician, LRM’s right to privacy under Article 17 was violated. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LRM’s abortion, this litigation process was so prolonged that LRM’s pregnancy had advanced to the stage that her physician would no longer perform the abortion. This fact, the Committee reasoned, amounted to a violation of Article 2, because LRM did not, in fact, have access to an effective remedy (the abortion) and was forced to obtain one illegally. This case contributed to a growing consensus in international law that restricting women’s access to an abortion may be considered torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 7 of the ICCPR. It also demonstrated that obstructing access to legal, elective medical procedures may violate the Covenant. Additionally, it indicated that the Court will analyze the right of a person with a disability under Article 7 in a way which heightens the recognized impact of the violation.

VDA, en nombre de su hija LMR, presentó una petición por violación de los derechos de LMR en virtud del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos (PIDCP). La petición alegaba violaciones del derecho de LMR en virtud del artículo 2 (derecho a la protección del Estado contra violaciones del derecho en virtud del PIDCP), artículo 3 (derecho a no ser discriminado), artículo 7 (a no ser sometido a torturas u otros actos crueles, inhumanos o trato degradante), el artículo 17 (libertad de interferencia arbitraria con la privacidad, familia, hogar o correspondencia, o ataques ilegales a honor o reputación), y el artículo 18 (derecho a la libertad de pensamiento, conciencia y religión). Al momento del incidente, LMR tenía 20 años de edad, pero tenía una discapacidad mental permanente que la hacía tener una edad mental entre 8 y 10 años. Cuando la madre de LMR la llevó al hospital después de que LMR se quejó de dolores, descubrió que LMR fue violada por su tío y tenía 14.5 semanas de embarazo. Bajo la sección 82.6 del Código Penal Argentino, el aborto es legal si el embarazo es el resultado de la violación de una mujer con discapacidad mental. LMR presentó una denuncia policial y programó un aborto, pero el aborto fue prevenido por una orden judicial contra el hospital. LMR apeló sin éxito al Tribunal Civil.

La Corte Suprema de Buenos Aires determinó que el aborto podría llevarse a cabo. Sin embargo, bajo la presión de los grupos contra el aborto, el hospital se negó a realizar el aborto porque el embarazo estaba muy avanzado. LMR finalmente obtuvo un aborto ilegal. El artículo 2 del Protocolo Facultativo del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos establece la obligación de los Estados parte de proteger los derechos de las personas en virtud del Pacto. El Comité de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas determinó que las audiencias judiciales causaron un retraso en el aborto de LMR hasta el punto de que ella requirió un aborto ilegal. El Comité determinó que aunque obligar a LRM a soportar un embarazo que resultó de una violación no constituía una tortura en virtud del Artículo 7, causaba sufrimiento físico y emocional y, por lo tanto, seguía constituyendo una violación de los derechos de LRM en virtud del Artículo 7. El Artículo 7 protege la salud mental de las personas además del sufrimiento físico, y el Comité consideró que la violación era particularmente grave dado el estado de LRM como persona con discapacidad. Además, el Comité determinó que debido a que la decisión de proceder o no con un aborto solo debería haberse realizado entre la paciente y su médico, se violó el derecho a la privacidad de LRM en virtud del Artículo 17. A pesar de que la Corte Suprema falló a favor del aborto de LRM, este proceso de litigio fue tan prolongado que el embarazo de LRM había avanzado a la etapa en que su médico ya no realizaría el aborto. Este hecho, razonó el Comité, equivalía a una violación del artículo 2, porque LRM no tenía, de hecho, acceso a un recurso efectivo (el aborto) y estaba obligada a obtener uno ilegalmente. Este caso contribuyó a un consenso cada vez mayor en el derecho internacional de que restringir el acceso de las mujeres a un aborto puede considerarse tortura o tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes en virtud del Artículo 7 del PIDCP. También demostró que obstruir el acceso a procedimientos médicos electivos y legales puede violar el Convenio. Además, el caso indicó que la Corte analizará el derecho de una persona con una discapacidad según el Artículo 7 de una manera que aumenta el impacto reconocido de la violación.