Uruguay Senate votes to legalise abortion
on 18/10/2012 08:39:18
Senators voted 17-14 to back the measure, which has already passed the lower house, and President Jose Mujica was expected to quickly sign it into law.
The legislation establishes that the public health care system must guarantee every woman the freedom to decide without pressure whether or not to have an abortion.
In Latin America, only Cuba grants all women the right to abortions. But it comes with so many conditions that both sides wonder how Uruguay will keep this promise.
Among other things, a clear 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 get enough votes for passage. In its place, politicians agreed to 10 pages of fine print intended to bring about the same results.
It is not the best law, "and not the solution we wanted, but it's an advance", said Senator Luis Gallo, a supporter and member of the ruling Broad Front coalition.
Women who decide to get abortions can now avoid the "humiliating secrecy" of illegal abortions, he argued.
All the ruling Broad Front coalition's senators voted in favour, joined by one member of the opposition, Jorge Saravia of the centre-right National Party.
The immediate reaction to the vote was muted since the result had been expected.
When Senate president Danilo Astori declared the measure's passage, a small group of abortion rights activists briefly applauded. There were no street protests, just a blast of fresh anti-abortion graffiti painted overnight on the pavements outside Parliament.
"It's a huge step," ruling coalition Senator Rafael Michelini said, adding that women will now no longer have to ask the state for permission.
"The woman who decides to have an abortion does it."
There are no firm estimates for how many women have obtained abortions illegally in Uruguay, but thousands were ending up in hospitals with complications each year until the government made morning-after pills widely available.
Ruling party politicians said reducing dangers from illegal abortions was their primary motivation.
Opponents vowed to overturn the measure, either through a popular plebiscite or by defeating the Broad Front government in the next presidential elections.
"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 Senator Jorge Larranaga said after the vote.
Mr Mujica's wife, Senator Lucia Topolansky, voted in favour and said she also favours the idea of a popular referendum on abortion. She expressed confidence that Uruguayans would approve it.
Recent polls have suggested that a majority of Uruguay's 3.3 million people favour decriminalising abortion, as this law accomplishes.