On Tuesday, Uruguay’s House
of Representatives approved a bill that includes several measures to
ensure sexual and reproductive health, including legalizing abortion
up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. The bill, which Senate
approved in November 2007, now needs the President’s signature to
become law. However, President Tabaré Vasquez has said he will veto
the bill. With 63%
of the population
supporting decriminalization of abortion, abortion is likely to become
a political hot potato in the next few weeks.
Ratifying this vote would make
Uruguay the third Latin American country to nationally codify abortion
rights in a region that has moved towards making abortion safer in the
past decade. This trend is not unique to Latin America:
a recent study found that in a 22-year period, 36
countries have significantly liberalized their abortion laws. Upholding Tuesday’s House vote would send a strong message to governments
in Latin America, and throughout the world, that progress we’ve made
will be hard to unravel.
It would also send a message
to the people of Uruguay that a woman’s health is important to the
health of a country. While President Vasquez’s administration has
focused on the poorest and most vulnerable populations, it does not
seem concerned with the risks related to unsafe abortion. If the President
vetoes the bill, he will ignore the thousands of women who risk their
lives by resorting to illegal and clandestine procedures. Apart from
being unfair, a veto would contradict Vasquez’s commitment to solving
pressing social problems.
Equally important, a Vazquez
veto means a veto for democratic ideals. If most of the population,
the House of Representatives, and the Senate fully endorse the bill,
should the President be entitled to veto it? A life-long champion for
democracy, Mr. Vasquez now shows little respect for the voice of the
majority of the population and its representatives.
Despite this gloomy scenario,
there is still hope. In Uruguay, a bill can only be vetoed if the President
and the Cabinet of Ministers agree, and we expect the Ministers to block
the veto. We are also hopeful that President Tabaré Vasquez will avoid
staining his respectable biography and approve the full text of the
sexual and reproductive health bill.
If this happens, Uruguay may
once again be a pioneer in the region.