Uruguay Lawmakers Legalize Abortion

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". Mitt Romney and Barack Obama disagreed on a lot of things during their debate on Tuesday night. One of them was contraception.

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Barack Obama: In my healthcare bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured.

Mitt Romney: I just note that I don't believe the bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not.
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Werman: Neither Romney nor Obama made any mention of abortion though. Maybe that's because abortion is so divisive an issue in this country that the candidates just didn't want to go there. Contrasts at to what's happening in Uruguay. There, abortion is front and center right now. Uruguay has just become only the second country in Latin America after Cuba to legalize abortion. A new law passed by the Uruguayan congress will allow women to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester. The measure is the result of a compromise between anti-abortion forces and pro-choice supporters. The BBC's Vladimir Hernandez says the new law replaces one from the 1930s that required women who wanted an abortion to ask a judge for permission in a public hearing. Now, he says, a new confidential, but still complex process will take over.

Vladimir Hernandez: Well, the new project says that any woman up to twelve weeks pregnant can go to a hospital and demand to have an abortion. Then she would have to talk to her doctors and tell them about their case and why she wants to have an abortion. Then she's going to be given five days to reflect on the facts of her decision and if she still is sure after these five days, then the hospital has to carry out the procedure that she wants.

Werman: I mean it's pretty remarkable how detailed the abortion process has been mapped out. Tell us a bit more about this panel that a pregnant woman seeking an abortion has to meet with.

Hernandez: It's not only that the woman is going to talk to her standard doctor or her practitioner, she also is going to have to talk to a psychologist and also to her gynecologist. So it's sort of a panel with different disciplines in medicine who will hear her case and provide her support if she needs it. And this is why the authorities, even though their [??] legalization of the abortion, they think that this is a crucial step of the whole process because if the woman goes to the doctors and faces some kind of support, then maybe, that's what they're hoping, the abortion will not take place, maybe she might change her mind or she might not.

Werman: Now, Vladimir, you sat down with the President of Uruguay, JosÃ? © Mujica, just a few weeks ago and you spoke with him about this topic. What did he tell you about his views on abortion?

Hernandez: He had to take a step back when we started talking about abortion. We were talking about many other aspects in Uruguay and when we put the abortion subject in front of him, he took a couple of minutes silence and stood there and said, "Well, this is something really difficult for me personally because it's something that I acknowledge that even divides my own party. It's not only the Uruguayan society that's divided over abortion, but even within my own ranks, my own friends, my own colleagues in politics, they're all divided about this." Nonetheless, he thought that the support given to the woman through a process that in a way is designed by the state was crucial for abortions not to keep on being some sort of a back-alley procedure in some sort of shady circumstances where many women could face even death because of this. And he was saying abortion is such a traumatic experience the more controlled we have it through a hospital and an approved medic the less traumatic that might be for a woman. And he wanted, in a way, he was supporting the law in the way that it would give some structure to a traumatic procedure.

Werman: Has Uruguay set a precedent now that will be followed by other countries across Latin America?

Hernandez: I think it's going to make many people all around South America think a bit more about this. Here in Argentina, we're just really an hour away from Uruguay, and this is a debate that's already increasing. Just recently there was a case that was in the media of a woman who wanted to have an abortion because she had been the victim of sex traffickers,and the whole case went to court and then everybody knew who she was, there were demonstrations outside her house. It was all a bit messy for a woman who was a victim of so many things and this led, just recently in the last couple of days, to, let's say, a new momentum for the debate and I wouldn't be surprised if here in Argentina the parliament or the congress or the senate would start seriously debating. There are many draft bills in the legislative here in Argentina and I won't be surprised they started to be debated. Let's remember that Uruguay is now becoming only the second country in Latin America after Cuba that will now freely allow a woman to have an abortion. And even though South America is a highly religious Roman Catholic society, it's a huge [??], probably more than any other place in the world, still this is a debate that goes on in many countries with the same intensity from Mexico to Argentina.

Werman: The BBC's Vladimir Hernandez. He recently traveled to Uruguay to report on the abortion debate there. He joined us from Buenos Aires, Argentina.