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Uruguay joins Cuba in offering abortion in Latin America
First Published Oct 17 2012 11:49 am • Last Updated Oct 17 2012 11:54 am

Uruguay is joining Cuba as the second Latin American nation to legalize abortion in cases other than rape, incest and the life of the mother after the Senate passed a bill President Jose Mujica has vowed to sign.

Uruguay’s Senate backed the measure Wednesday by a 17 to 14 vote. The lower house passed the legislation by a single vote on Sept. 26. Once signed by Mujica, abortion for women over the age of 18 in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy will be legal in the South American country for the first time since 1937. Former President Tabare Vazquez vetoed similar legislation in 2008.

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Uruguay’s move is a blow to the Catholic Church, which has long exercised influence over social policies in Latin America and opposed today’s measure. Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia and Belize have also called for a fresh approach to the U.S.-led war on drugs, with Mujica backing moves to create the world’s first government-run marijuana market.

"This is an issue that divides all parties, particularly where there are religious views involved," Mujica said in a Sept. 27 interview with the BBC, adding that he believes the measure will help save lives.

Most Latin American nations restrict abortion, while Chile and Nicaragua ban it outright, and few are likely to follow Uruguay’s lead. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights last week asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene in the case of an El Salvadoran woman sentenced to two years in prison for inducing an abortion.

Uruguayan opposition Senator Jorge Larranaga said his National Party will seek to have the law overturned after the 2015 presidential elections.

Presidential election » "Experience from other countries shows that legalization doesn’t resolve the problem," Larranaga said during debate today, adding that his party’s opposition was a matter of basic human rights. "We will repeal this law."

At Montevideo’s Pereira Rossell hospital, an average of 20 women per day consult doctors about terminating their pregnancies, according to Montevideo-based newspaper El Pais.

Under today’s legislation, women seeking to end their pregnancy in the first 12 weeks after conception will have to consult with their doctor, who would request the formation of a committee of gynecologists, psychologists and social workers to advise her about all the options she has. After a five-day wait, the woman can decide whether to go forward with the procedure.

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