Abortion debate erupts in Uruguay after controversial court ruling

Public debate in Uruguay became dominated by the divisive issue of abortion this week after a court controversially blocked a woman from terminating her pregnancy, after her former partner appealed to the courts and lodged a legal bid to block the procedure.

According to local news reports, the unnamed 24-year-old woman was ordered last week not to carry out any such procedure because the father of the foetus, her former boyfriend, wants to keep the baby and raise it independently on his own.

The mother of the foetus, however, said this week that she is suffering from a medical condition that may prevent her from bringing the baby to term.

Uruguay, the only country in South America where abortion is legal — albeit under certain conditions — now finds itself gripped by a national debate that is also a race against time, with the cut-off point for such procedures coming after 12th week of pregnancy.

Under Uruguayan law, abortions are legal up until that point — though any such procedure must be confirmed after a meeting with an interdisciplinary medical team. Then, those wishing to continue with the procedure must wait out a five-day cooling off period.

Emphasising how quickly the issue must be resolved, the woman was said last week to be in her 10th week of pregnancy. She would now be entering the 11th week of gestation. She was due to present her legal case yesterday in court.

Abortion was legalised under the government of former President José “Pepe” Mujica by a razor-thin margin in 2012.

Issuing her ruling, Judge Pura Concepción Book said the decision to terminate the pregnancy controvened rights under international child-protection treaties and the Uruguayan Constitution, as well as infringing on the rights of the father. Book also concluded that the woman had not “respected” the terms of the 2012 law that legalised abortion.

The Legal Abortion in Uruguay group issued a statement calling the order “abhorrent” and arguing that such decisions should be made by the woman in question alone.

The group also said that under the terms of the country’s Consitution, there is no protection for the rights of unborn children.

Another NGO, Women and Health in Uruguay (MySU) said in a statement that “in our country and in international legislation there is no single provision that refers to the right of the unborn as a subject of law.”

Judge Book received the support of the Uruguay Magistrates Association, however, which said legal complaints must go treated through the proper channels.

The judge promised on Wednesday that the case would be resolved soon. “Everything will be done before the 12 weeks of gestation (are over),” she said.

The unprecedented ruling gripped the country this week, which is known globally for its relatively liberal attitudes toward society, with local newspapers pouring out column inches on the subject.

Just two days ago however, the woman in question — who hails from the western department of Soriano — gave an interview to the country’s influential daily El País, revealing she suffered from a medical condition that lowered the possibility that she could bring the child to term. The woman said she had a “lesion” in her womb which affects her ability to have a normal pregnancy, saying it was discovered when she had a previous child, leading to several months of enforced bed rest.

“I feel violated, insulted,” she told El País. “It’s like nobody cares about your life, your decision, what happens to you, what you feel, your condition, and you have to see from the outside how other people, who only care to make a profit, make a decision about your life,” she added.

The woman said her previous relationship with the man was informal and not steady. She was questioned as to whether they had ever discussed becoming parents. “At no time,” she responded.

In another interview, she told the Telenoche news network that when she told the man of her pregnancy in January, he said he would respect her decision, come what may, implying he had gone back on his word.

In statements to the press lawyer Daniel Benavidez, who is representing the woman, said the case was damaging his client’s “mental health.”

“My client is very sad about the situation, hurt by what is happening and undergoing psychological treatment. She has the support of the law, she complied with the requirements and now the legislation is being called into question in a judicial process,” he added.

The row looks sure to crank up further this week, with social organisations set to flock to Mercedes in Río Negro in the country’s west to rally in solidarity with the woman’s situation and demand she be given the right to choose what happens.

The man who filed the legal appeal has said that whatever the outcome of the case, he intends to take the issue to the nation’s Constitutional Court to gain a ruling on whether fathers have rights over an unborn child from the moment of conception.

Herald with Reuters

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