The law—approved by a 50-49 margin—has many restrictions. It requires a woman seeking an abortion to go before a panel of at least three “professionals,” one of whom is opposed. She must explain the circumstances of her decision, listen to advice about “alternatives,” and then wait five more days “to reflect” on her decision before returning to the board. She must also have lived in the country for at least one year.
“The aim of the bill is to reduce the number of abortions in the country,” Independent Party Deputy Ivan Posada, who authored the measure and cast the tie-breaking vote, told the Associated Press.
The approved bill is a more restrictive version of one passed by the Senate last December and a version approved in 2008 by the legislature, which was vetoed by then president Tabaré Vazquez. President José Mujica had said he would not veto the new bill.
According to recent surveys, 52 percent of Uruguayans support legalization.
“It is an advance compared to the current situation, but it is not what we’re demanding, which is full abortion rights for women,” Gustavo Guerrero, a leader of the Federation of University Students of Uruguay (FEUU), said in a phone interview.
The federation is part of a coalition that includes women, labor and student organizations, among others, that campaign for women’s right to abortion.
For a short period in the beginning of the 1930s abortion was legal, explained Guerrero, until it was criminalized again in 1938.
This tradition, as well as subsequent gains made by women, including the relatively large percentage who are part of the workforce, all contribute to the support for women’s right to choose abortion that exists today.
“This is not the law we wanted,” Marta Aguñín, a leader of Mujer y Salud (Women and Health), a women’s rights organization, said in a phone interview.
“We don’t need anyone to tell us what to do,” she stressed, referring to women being forced to see a panel before having an abortion. “We are capable of making our own decisions.”
Aguñín said the long waiting periods between interviews with the panel combined with the lack of readily available services will result in many not being able to receive the procedure within the 12-week period, and force women to resort to illegal abortions.
According to official figures, some 30,000 abortions are done each year in Uruguay. Women’s rights organizations estimate the real figure could be double that. In 2001, complications from illegal abortions was the cause of 28 percent of maternal deaths in Uruguay.
Some 4 million women in Latin America have abortions every year, according to the World Health Organization. About 4,000 die as a result of unsafe illegal abortions.
In Argentina some 500,000 abortions are performed annually. The city legislature of Buenos Aires, the country’s capital, approved a measure Sept. 28 allowing abortions for women who have been victims of sexual assault.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home