URUGUAY – Legal barriers to access abortion services through a human rights lens: the Uruguayan experience

URUGUAY – Legal barriers to access abortion services through a human rights lens: the Uruguayan experience

by Lucia Berro Pizzarossa, Reproductive Health Matters 2018;26(52):

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09688080.2017.1422664

 

Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) has increasingly gained importance in the field of international human rights law. The work of the United Nations bodies, in particular the recently adopted General Comment 22 (GC 22), has been instrumental in signalling the importance of the SRH legal framework and in setting clear guidelines to steer countries into enacting/modifying/repealing national laws in order to comply with their international obligations…. Although within the region Uruguay is regarded as a pioneer in terms of women’s status and rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, evidence points to a number of challenges. This article explores the extent to which the Uruguayan abortion law complies with the country’s international human rights obligations as conceptualised by GC 22. It uses the Uruguayan abortion law, its regulatory decree, and the highest administrative court’s decision in Alonso et al v. Poder Ejecutivo as the main pivots for the discussion. The results reveal that – in spite of the praise it receives at the international level and the adoption of a less restrictive abortion law – Uruguay has fallen short in adopting a legal framework that complies with the international standards and guarantees effective access to abortion services.

 

…Abortion remains a crime under Uruguayan law; the abortion law merely waived criminal punishment when abortion is performed under very specific circumstances and after complying with an extensive list of requirements. For some of the actors involved in the parliamentary discussion, this legislative amendment brought no real change as the voluntary termination of pregnancy continues to fall within the ambit of penal law…

 

…Uruguayan law requires a five-day mandatory waiting period: the minimum amount of time that is legally required to elapse before a woman can continue to terminate her pregnancy. According to the WHO, such a provision delays care, jeopardising women’s ability to access safe abortion services and demeaning them as competent decision-makers…

…Uruguayan law requires multidisciplinary mandatory counselling for women seeking abortions. As described above, women are legally required to consult three professionals who are obliged to inform them of the “inherent health risks” of the abortion procedure. The same legal obligation is not extended to information regarding pregnancy-related health risks. The objective of this interdisciplinary counselling committee is to “contribute to overcome the causes that lead to the interruption of pregnancy”, evidencing the deterrent intention of the provision…

…Research conducted by Mujer y Salud en Uruguay indicates that in some areas of the country up to 87% of medical service providers refuse to terminate pregnancies, making it virtually impossible to obtain timely access to services. One study concluded that doctors are collectively practicing official disobedience and resisting the law, thereby impeding women’s access to care…

Fortunately, the shortcomings of the Uruguayan legal framework have reached the parliament and a draft [bill] that eliminates many of the above-mentioned barriers has been submitted…

 

VISUAL, 2012