Uruguay took a small step towards improving the rights of women this week. They have passed a law that legalizes abortion under certain circumstances. The vote was close (50-49) and the right limited, but the movement is in the right direction.
The Chamber of Deputies’ legislation would give women the right to a legal abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and decriminalize later-term abortions when the mother’s life is at risk or when the fetus is so deformed that it wouldn’t survive after birth. In cases of rape, abortions would be legal during the first 14 weeks….
Abortion rights advocates were disappointed by compromises made to secure the votes, including a requirement that women seeking abortions justify their request before a panel of at least three professionals — a gynecologist, psychologist and social worker — and listen to advice about alternatives including adoption and support services if she should decide to keep the baby. Then she must wait five more days “to reflect” on the consequences before the procedure.
The imposition of these delays were imposed to ensure the votes of some members will ultimately be unenforceable. Unless the health system in Uruguay provides better access to specialists than most do, it will be difficult for women to see all three in a timely manner. This will result in physicians providing the service without the patients jumping through all the hoops, especially in rural areas. It will certainly skew availability to those wealthy enough to afford better care.
As I wrote earlier, rape exceptions will not work. Reproductive rights campaigners in Uruguay still have a battle ahead of them, but they have won an important first step.