Ackowledging Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Latin American Constitutions

Karim Velasco

Most Latin American countries do not explicitly acknowledge sexual and reproductive rights in their Constitutions. But some Constitutional Courts have still been able to find protection for legal abortion and other reproductive health issues.

The recognition of sexual
and reproductive rights of women is usually a controversial matter in
Latin American Parliaments and Constitutional Courts. It is often
argued by conservative parties and right wing movements that the "so
called sexual and reproductive rights" do not exist as long as there
is no mention of such rights in the Constitutions.

Indeed, only Ecuador
has explicitly included these rights in its Constitutional text. The women’s movement played a key role and managed to include sexual
and reproductive rights in Ecuador’s 1998 Constitution after a remarkably
hard-fought campaign, a significant milestone in Latin America.
That is why, despite the fact that this country is currently working
on a new Constitution, the draft still includes an explicit recognition
of sexual and reproductive rights.

In the case of Bolivia, a Constituent
Assembly, made up of 34% of women, almost half of whom are indigenous women, drafted a new Constitution that will be voted on in a referendum later
this year and that specifically "guarantees women and men the exercise
of their sexual and reproductive rights."

And at a provincial level, it is important to mention the
Constitution of the City of Buenos Aires, whose text acknowledges "sexual
and reproductive rights" as basic human rights.

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.


For other
Latin American countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay,
reproductive and/or sexual rights are recognized in their Constitutional
texts (although they are not literally stated) by acknowledging the
range of rights that inform them, i.e. the right of every person to
decide freely and
responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children
and to have the information and means to do so.

However, in regards to Ecuador and Bolivia, it is interesting to consider what would happen if those countries’ new Constitutions were to omit the expression
"sexual and reproductive rights" from their text, as is the case in most Latin American Constitutions. Would that mean that sexual
and reproductive rights would no longer be considered constitutional rights?
Many argue that it is not essential that constitutional texts literally include the term "sexual and reproductive
rights" since these can be interpreted from the fundamental
rights already stated in Constitutions.

Others argue that it
is necessary to include "sexual and reproductive rights" in the
constitutional texts, in part in order to end the debate with conservative
parties and movements, but also to strengthen the development and implementation
of public policy regarding sexual and reproductive rights issues and to protect these rights from internal struggles within political
parties or changes of the administration in power.

Some Constitutional Courts
— like the Courts in Colombia and Peru — have dealt with cases regarding
sexual and reproductive rights where they have had to interpret their
constitutional texts: the decriminalization of abortion in Colombia and the free delivery of emergency
in Peru. In the
first case, the Colombian Court’s decision decriminalized the voluntary
termination of the pregnancy based on the violation of women’s rights
to life and dignity for being forced to have an abortion in unsafe conditions.
In the second case the Peruvian Constitutional Court decided that the
Health Ministry failed to comply with a regulation that obliged it to
freely deliver emergency contraception and ordered that it started right

There is no doubt that both decisions do tacitly guarantee and
recognize the legitimacy of sexual and reproductive rights even though they are not quoted in Constitutional texts, but neither of them dares to explicitly
mention these rights as the rights being ultimately protected by these
decisions. It seems to me that despite the amount of international
human rights treaties and bodies that promote and defend sexual and
reproductive rights (to which Latin American countries are State
parties), the Courts will keep on not alluding to them unless they explicitly
see them stated on their constitutional texts.

It is important then,
that although sexual and reproductive rights do not need to be literally
recognized to be protected and guaranteed, Ecuador’s new Constitution
does not take a backward step on this matter, and fully guarantees the
protection of sexual and reproductive rights. Likewise, Bolivia should take a further step and specifically
recognize sexual and reproductive rights at a constitutional level and
not as part of other fundamental rights already recognized, so that
these rights are well noticed and more easily exercised.

Load More

Enjoy reading Rewire? Sign up for our email list to receive exclusive news and reporting.

Thank you for reading Rewire!