Uruguay debates bill to allow abortion; passage expected

Abortion

In a marathon  session Tuesday that stretched more than eight hours, Uruguayan lawmakers argued passionately over whether to legalize abortion in the earliest stages of pregnancy, a controversial step that would make it a rarity among Latin American nations.

Under the measure, Uruguay would allow abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, 14 weeks in cases of rape, and decriminalize later abortions to protect the life of the mother or carried out when a fetus isn’t expected to survive.

The legislation  would require women to explain why they are seeking to abort to three professionals -- a gynecologist, a mental health professional and a social worker -- and hear information about abortion risks and alternative options, such as adoption. Afterward, they would have to wait five days “to reflect” before being allowed an abortion.

The bill, which proponents said was created in hope of reducing the number of abortions, was seen as likely to pass and be signed by President Jose Mujica. The Associated Press reported Tuesday afternoon that the measure appeared to be headed for a narrow passage by 50-49 votes.

But Uruguayans on both sides of the debate were displeased by the bill. Abortion opponents showed a National Geographic video  of a fetus in its earliest weeks as they argued against the measure on Tuesday. Roman Catholic and evangelical groups have opposed any legalization.

“I can’t bring the testimony of the unborn here,  because they cannot give it,” National Party official Jaime Trobo said Tuesday, according to Uruguayan newspaper El Observador, which sent Twitter updates from the lengthy hearing.

Yet the final version of the bill also disappointed groups that had lobbied to legalize abortion, arguing that it stigmatized and harassed women in violation of their rights.

The legislation "treats them as if they weren’t capable of responsible decisions about their lives and their health;  this isn’t just a lack of respect, it’s discriminatory,” Amnesty International Uruguay director Mariana Labastie said.

Only a few Latin American nations, including Cuba, allow abortion, according to information published last year by the Center for Reproductive Rights, headquartered in New York. Most countries in the region allow abortion only for health reasons, if at all, its research shows.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: People march against abortion in Montevideo on Monday before  Tuesday's vote in parliament on a bill that would legalize some abortions. Credit: Miguel Rojo / AFP/Getty Images

 
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