Friday, November 14, 2008

Uruguay Moves to Legalize Abortion

Uruguay's congress has passed a bill that would legalize abortion in the country during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Unfortunately, the president has threatened to veto the bill.
Uruguay's Senate voted on Tuesday to decriminalize abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a rare move for a Latin American country, but the president is expected to kill the measure.

The Senate voted 17 to 13 in favor of the bill after the lower house of Congress approved it last week in a session that was interrupted by a bomb threat.

Abortion is largely banned in Latin America, home to about half the world's Roman Catholics. Uruguay's center-left president, Tabare Vazquez, has vowed to veto any law easing restrictions on the procedure.

Congress could override the veto in theory, but support for the bill is not seen as strong enough for that.

"Whether the president vetoes it or not, it's important that Congress has established this right," said ruling party senator Margarita Percovich, who told Reuters she hopes Vazquez will change his position.

Under the current law, which dates from 1938, women who abort and the people who assist them face jail terms. Abortion is only permitted in cases of rape or when the life of the woman or the fetus is endangered.

A recent survey by private pollster Interconsult showed 57 percent of Uruguayans supported fewer restrictions on abortion, and 63 percent were against a presidential veto on the bill.
Clearly, Uruguay's abortion laws are extremely draconian, and to those anti-choicers who lie and say that outlawing abortion doesn't make the women who have them criminals, this is a sad example of how it can in fact happen.

The country is also yet another example of the toll that illegal abortion takes on women physically -- 29% of all maternal deaths in Uruguay are caused by (illegal) abortion, which is more than twice the worldwide average. It's frightening, and the women of Uruguay clearly deserve better.   

With women's lives at stake, and the will of the people behind women's health, it would be a huge shame for the president to veto this important measure. Even if he does, however, the passage of the bill in congress shows great steps forward for reproductive health care and points to a day when women in Uruguay will have access to safe and legal medical care.  It can't come a moment too soon.

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