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Uruguay legalizes first-trimester abortion

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 18th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In an unprecedented move, the South American nation of Uruguay has taken steps to legalize first-trimester abortion. Uruguay's Senate voted to legalize abortion this week. Both sides of the abortion debate here - those who are Pro-Life and Pro-Abortion in Uruguay, however, claim that there are so many stipulations attached that positively no one is totally satisfied.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The law in Uruguay requires a woman seeking an abortion to first explain her situation to a review panel made up of a gynecologist, a mental health expert and a social worker. The woman must then tell "how the pregnancy happened and any difficulties she faces in terms of finances, social and family situations, age or other issues that prevent her from wanting to continue the pregnancy."

The panel then tells the woman about the reach of the law, risks of abortion, alternatives including adoption, and social and economic support that's available.

Senators voted 17-14 to back the measure, which has already passed the lower house. President Jose Mujica was expected to quickly sign it into law.

The law requires that the public health care system must guarantee every woman the freedom to decide without pressure whether or not to have an abortion.

The law is a bold move for any Latin American, as Cuba until now has been the only such country to allow abortions.

The declaration that "every adult woman has the right to decide whether to end her pregnancy during the first 12 weeks of gestation" was dropped in order to win votes for passage. Lawmakers agreed to 10 pages of fine print intended to bring about the same results.

Sen. Luis Gallo, a supporter and member of the ruling Broad Front coalition  agrees that it's not the best law, "and not the solution we wanted, but it's an advance."

All the ruling Broad Front coalition's senators voted in favor, joined by one member of the opposition, Jorge Saravia of the center-right National Party.

After Senate President Danilo Astori declared the measure's passage, a small group of abortion rights activists briefly applauded. Surprisingly, there were no street protests, just a blast of fresh pro-life graffiti painted overnight on the sidewalks outside Parliament.

It's not known how many women have obtained abortions illegally in Uruguay, but thousands were ending up in hospitals with complications annually until the government made morning-after pills available.

Opponents had previously vowed to overturn the measure. "This project is an attack on life and that's why we have voted against it. If we win power in the 2014 elections, we'll seek to overturn it," National Party Sen. Jorge Larranaga said after the vote.

Opinion polls have suggested that a majority of Uruguay's 3.3 million people favor decriminalizing abortion, as this law accomplishes.

"The vote was expected, but it's an extraordinarily important step," a governing party senator, Alberto Couriel, told the AP.

The measure decriminalizes abortions for women who follow the new rules, but firmly states that women who break the rules will not face jail time. However, anyone who helps women obtain abortions outside the margins of the new law would face up to two years in jail.

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