Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Senate votes to legalise abortion

Pro-life demonstrators dressed in animal costumes holding protest signs that read 'save the humans' in Uruguay (AP)

Uruguay's Senate has voted to legalise first-trimester abortions for all women in a groundbreaking measure that came with so many strings attached it left neither side in the bitter debate completely satisfied.

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.

That's a big step for Latin America, where 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 terminate a pregnancy can now avoid the "humiliating secrecy" of illegal abortions, he said.

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.

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.

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.