Uruguay Legalizes Abortion (But Read the Fine Print First)


Uruguay is the second Latin American country (after Cuba) to allow women to choose when to give birth. Well, more or less.

President Jose Mujica signed the measure into law yesterday, after senators voted 17-14 to back the legislation, which already passed the lower house. The good news is that, according to the AP, 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.” The law refers to first-trimester abortions except in cases when a mother’s life is at risk or the fetus won’t survive — then, later-term abortions are decriminalized as well. Rape victims would be able to get abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The not-so-good news is that the law has an insane amount of conditions; in order to pass, a straightforward statement about how “every adult woman has the right to decide whether to end her pregnancy during the first 12 weeks of gestation” was dropped in favor of 10 pages of fine print. So while the measure decriminalizes abortions for women who follow the rules — and says women who break the rules won’t face jail time — anyone who helps women obtain abortions outside the law’s requirements would face up to two years in jail. From the AP:

The law requires a woman seeking an abortion to first explain her situation to a review panel made up of a gynecologist, a mental health expert and a social worker. The woman must describe “how the pregnancy happened and any difficulties she faces in terms of finances, social and family situations, age or other issues that prevent her from wanting to continue the pregnancy.”

In other words: is your abortion a legitimate abortion, or are you just a lazy whore?

The panel in turn must inform the woman about the reach of the law, risks of abortion, alternatives including adoption, and social and economic support that’s available.
“The interdisciplinary panel must create an atmosphere of psychological and social support for the woman to enable her to overcome the causes that led her to want to abort the pregnancy and guarantee that she makes a conscious and responsible decision,” the measure says.

Because women who choose to have abortions are inherently irresponsible?

Then, the woman must wait at least five days before confirming her decision.

Cool, almost an entire week of pressure-filled slut-shaming!

Another compromise provides a conscience exemption so that health care professionals opposed to abortion can avoid participating. Institutions such as Uruguay’s extensive Roman Catholic and evangelical hospital networks can opt out as well, but only if they make agreements with other institutions such as the public health care system so that any of their patients can get abortions elsewhere.


Despite these significant barriers, the law is still a major step forward for Uruguay’s women — thousands were ending up in hospitals with complications from illegal abortions each year until the government made morning-after pills available. Predictably, opponents are already vowing to overturn the measure. Let’s hope that, instead, the country gets used to the idea of reproductive freedom and eventually edits all that fine print so women don’t have to jump through five days of emotionally exhausting loopholes to have control over their own bodies.

Uruguay takes historic step legalizing abortion

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