Uruguay Senate legalizes abortion

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- The Uruguayan Senate voted 17-14 on Wednesday to legalize all first trimester abortions in a groundbreaking step in Latin America.

The Wednesday vote came after senators accepted a compromise measure that has frustrated both sides of the bitter abortion debate.

The Senate had already approved a more liberal version of the proposed law, but concessions made to gain the votes of more socially conservative members of Uruguay's lower house forced a second vote.

President Jose Mujica has said he plans to sign it, unlike his predecessor Tabare Vazquez, an oncologist who vetoed similar legislation in the past because of his personal opposition to abortion.

Cuba is the only country in the region where all women currently have access to first-trimester abortions.

Uruguay's measure will decriminalize the procedure but require women to justify themselves before a panel of experts and wait five days before confirming they want to go ahead. It also decriminalizes late-term abortions when the mother's life is at risk or the fetus is deformed. Rape victims would be able to get legal abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Judges would no longer be involved when adults seek the procedure, and while minors would need court approval, they need not get permission beforehand from their parents.

It's not the best law, "and not the solution we wanted, but it's an advance," said Sen. Luis Gallo, a supporter and member of the ruling Broad Front coalition. Women who decide to get abortions won't be penalized if they follow the rules, and thus avoid the "humiliating secrecy" of illegal abortions," he argued.

Sen. Alfredo Solari of the right-wing Colorado Party spoke out against the law.

"We're rushing to have abortions, but we're not rushing to promote adoption," he complained. "We are putting death before life."

Other opposition lawmakers have vowed to revoke the law if their parties win the next presidential election in 2014, or hold a plebiscite in hopes of overturning the law, even though polls show a majority of Uruguayans favor decriminalizing first-trimester abortions.


Pablo Fernandez in Montevideo contributed to this report.