Posted on | September 28, 2012 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D |
Legislators in Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies narrowly voted 50-49 to legalize abortion late Tuesday night, thus clearing the bill for a Senate vote. However, before arriving at this final count, lawmakers on both sides were forced to contend with conflicts between their party loyalties and their personal consciences. The Associated Press reports:
President Jose Mujica says he will allow it to become law, if the Senate approves the changes. The Senate already has approved an even more liberal version of the abortion measure.
If the measure becomes law, Uruguay will become the second country in South America besides Cuba that allows for legal abortions during the first trimester to all women.
However, according to some groups campaigning for legal abortion in Uruguay, this bill leaves much to be desired. A representative of Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (Women and Health in Uruguay) complained that the law was “a law of minimums”, citing the provision that women seeking abortions must be referred by their doctors to explain their reasons to a panel of gynecologists, psychologists, and social workers in addition to a five-day waiting period before the procedure can take place. Furthermore, first-trimester abortions are not removed from the criminal code, meaning that women who obtain abortions without observing these requirements or induce abortions themselves are still subject to penalties under the law.
The debate in the Chamber of Deputies concluded shortly before midnight, as the measure passed with 49 votes from the ruling Frente Amplio (Broad Front) party plus one vote from an Independent Party representative. One member of Frente Amplio, Andrés Lima, voted against the bill on grounds of conscience, while two others, as well as one representative of the party opposing the measure, left the room to personally abstain from voting while their alternates cast their votes along party lines.
El País reports that one of them, Dario Pérez of Frente Amplio, withdrew weeping from the room after declaring that he could not give his personal support to the bill for the sake of his youngest child Benjamín, and Ismael, one of two babies who had been lost to miscarriage.
Frente Amplio member Álvaro Vega, who supported the bill, refused to characterize the vote as a breakthrough, noting that first-trimester abortion was still part of the criminal code, and that abortion is not going to end in 2012. The current estimate of the illegal abortion rate in Uruguay is 30,000 per year, compared to 64,000 annual births.