The Two-Way
11:30 am
Wed September 26, 2012

Lawmakers In Uruguay Vote To Legalize Abortion

Uruguayan lawmakers have very narrowly approved a bill allowing women limited access to abortion. As the Los Angeles Times reports, it's a big change for a country that outlaws the procedure. Should it take effect, Uruguayan women can legally terminate their pregnancies in the first 12 weeks.

There are conditions. Women must justify their decision to a three member panel comprised of a medical doctor, a mental health professional and a social worker. Then they have five days "to reflect" before they can obtain the procedure. The AP says President Jose Mujica will allow it to become law.

The lawmakers' vote was 50-49. No one is fully happy with the decision. Pro-life advocates are outraged over any change in the strict law, while women's rights advocates are fuming over the restrictions. The Uruguayan newspaper, El Observador, bluntly noted parliamentary arguments for and against abortion "were useless...since no one was willing to listen".

The Uruguayan news comes with grim abortion statistics. In 2006, physicians at the School of Medicine, University of the Republic in Montevideo, reported 29 percent of maternal deaths in Uruguay were due to unsafe abortions. Even more shocking, nearly half of the deaths occurred in a single facility in the capital: Pereira Rossell Hospital.

Faced with a growing public health issue, the doctors undertook a new strategy to treat women seeking illegal abortions. They counseled women before and after the procedure "to reduce the risk of injury". Ahead of time, women were told of the risks of certain abortion methods and options, such as adoption or social services; if they still chose to abort, they were checked afterwards for complications. They were also offered contraception.

Boston University public health researcher Christina Allain followed up on the program. She found over a 15 month period, 75 percent of the Uruguayan women studied returned for the follow up visit. Most of them terminated a pregnancy. She writes that doctors found success:

"One case of post-abortion infection, two cases of hemorrhage, and no maternal deaths or severe complications occurred among participants; additionally, no abortion-related maternal deaths and only two cases of post-abortion sepsis occurred at the Pereira Rossell Hospital as a whole during the study period."

Allain says this addresses medical problems related to unsafe abortion, but also serves as a useful model to support "women facing unplanned pregnancy". One of the biggest contributors toward success was that all women were given confidentiality, despite the fact that abortion remained illegal.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.