Something unexpected happened when Uruguayan politicians tried to liberalise their country's archaic abortion laws.
It's a familiar scenario: a tall, photogenic, charismatic
left-leaning President who outsmarted traditional political forces to
win office with 51.7 percent of the national vote. His platform is
social justice, tax reform, human rights, better health coverage, and
banning smoking in public. His party controls both houses of the legislature. Elected in the midst of an economic
crisis, the pundits described his campaign of hope as "the most
profound political rupture in recent history".
despite diplomatic rows, environmental controversies and a bitter
dispute over free trade, perhaps the most controversial decision of his
term is a Congressional proposal to dramatically liberalise abortion.
what did President Tabaré Vázquez, do about a bill to
give Uruguay the most progressive abortion law in Latin America? He
has angered activists for abortion rights and
even his own party, Frente Amplio (Broad Front) which had sponsored
the bill. The “Law in Defence of the Right to Sexual and
Reproductive Health” would have authorised first trimester
abortions when a woman's health is at risk or the family is too poor
to care for a child. By US standards, this is conservative enough,
but the current law in Uruguay makes abortion a criminal offence
was most interesting about Vázquez's veto,however, is not the
politics, but his thoughtful, scientific response to the proposed
legislation. He is a French-trained cancer specialist who still does
consultations in an oncology clinic. If his religious convictions influenced his decision, he kept them to himself -- he is a Mason. Here is what he said:
is a consensus that abortion is a social evil which must be avoided.
Nonetheless, in those countries where abortion has been liberalised,
it has increased. In the United States, in the first ten years,
they tripled, and the figure has been maintained. It has become
customary. The same thing happened in Spain.
cannot ignore the reality of the existence of human life in its
gestational stage, just as science reveals it. Biology has evolved
greatly. Revolutionary discoveries, such as IVF or sequencing the
human genome, show that from the moment of conception there is a new
human life, a new being. So much so, that in modern legal systems,
including our own, DNA has become the acid test of determining the
identity of persons, independent of their age, even if the body is
destroyed, or when practically nothing is left of the human being,
and even after a long time.
The true degree of
civilisation of a nation is measured by how the neediest are
protected. Therefore we must protect the weakest amongst us. Because
the criterion is not the value of the subject with respect to how
others respond to him, or his usefulness, but the value which exists
due to his mere existence...
text also affects freedom of enterprise and association when it
imposes upon medical institutions with legally approved statues which
have, in some cases, been functioning for more than a hundred years,
an obligation to perform abortions, expressly contrary to their
furthermore, describes, erroneously and in a strained fashion,
against common sense, abortion as a medical act, ignoring
international declarations... which reflect the principles of
Hippocratic medicine which characterise the doctor as someone who
acts in favour of life and physical integrity.
In accordance with
the particular characteristics of our people, it is better to seek a
solution based upon solidarity which promotes women and their babies,
giving them the freedom to be able to choose other ways, and in this
fashion, to save both of them.
We need to tackle
the true causes of abortion in our country which are rooted in our
socio-economic circumstances. There are many women, particularly in
the poorest sectors, who are alone in the task of raising children.
Hence, we should protect abandoned women with solidarity, instead of
offering them abortions.
President Vázquez could forward a copy of this letter to Uruguay's Congress to his
counterpart in the United States, along with a few
political tips. His veto may have exasperated colleagues and angered
abortion activists, but it hasn't dented his popularity, even though
57 per cent of voters in this very secular country support liberal
to MercatorNet's South American correspondent, Pedro DuTour,
ministers in the Frente Amplio are scuttling about trying to change
the constitution to allow Vázquez to run for a second term. He
has a popularity rating of 63 percent. Opposing abortion doesn't have
to be a political death sentence for a progressive politician.
Cook is editor of MercatorNet. (Translation by MercatorNet staff.)