Uruguay becomes the Third Nation in Latin America to Decriminalize Abortion

Primary Content

(PRESS RELEASE) In a 17-14 groundbreaking senate vote this week, Uruguay became the third nation in Latin America to decriminalize abortion, allowing a woman to request an abortion procedure during her first trimester without restriction as to reason.
The senate decision is a turning point for Latin America as Uruguay moves away from the current status quo in much of the region, where most countries only permit therapeutic abortion. Only Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico – a US territory – and Mexico City’s Federal District allow elective abortion.
Lilian Sepúlveda, Director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights issued this statement in response:
"This law is a big step forward for women’s rights in Uruguay. In a region where access to reproductive health services is highly restricted, the country’s senate has taken a progressive stance to protect women’s basic human rights. Now reproductive health advocates in the country and internationally must continue to be vigilant in order to ensure that the government implements the law and that women are not inhibited from fully exercising these fundamental reproductive rights.”
While the law is a victory for the women of Uruguay, there are a number of provisions in it that may create barriers for women in accessing safe abortion procedures. Some of the provisions include requiring women seeking abortions to 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 social and economic support services if should she decide to carry the pregnancy to term.
Other provisions include a mandatory waiting period of five days after speaking with the review panel “to reflect" on the consequences before the procedure and an opt-out clause that would allow private health care institutions, as well as individual health care providers, to decline to perform abortions based on their moral or religious objections.
Previously, Uruguay’s law only permitted abortion to preserve the woman’s life or health or when the pregnancy resulted from rape. Under this law, women who unlawfully had abortions were sanctioned with between three to nine months in prison, while anyone who performed an abortion faced six to twenty-four months in prison. This law was promulgated in the 1930s.
A recent study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute reinforces the fact that restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion. According to the study, the 2008 abortion rate in Latin America—a region where abortion is highly restricted in almost all countries—was 32 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, while in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the rate was just 12 per 1,000.
More information about abortion laws around the globe is available at CRR’s interactive World Abortion Laws map.