Uruguay Congress allows early abortions, veto looms

MONTEVIDEO Tue Nov 11, 2008 7:42pm GMT

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MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguay's Senate voted on Tuesday to decriminalize abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a rare move for a Latin American country, but the president is expected to kill the measure.

The Senate voted 17 to 13 in favor of the bill after the lower house of Congress approved it last week in a session that was interrupted by a bomb threat.

Abortion is largely banned in Latin America, home to about half the world's Roman Catholics. Uruguay's center-left president, Tabare Vazquez, has vowed to veto any law easing restrictions on the procedure.

Congress could override the veto in theory, but support for the bill is not seen as strong enough for that.

"Whether the president vetoes it or not, it's important that Congress has established this right," said ruling party senator Margarita Percovich, who told Reuters she hopes Vazquez will change his position.

Under the current law, which dates from 1938, women who abort and the people who assist them face jail terms. Abortion is only permitted in cases of rape or when the life of the woman or the fetus is endangered.

A recent survey by private pollster Interconsult showed 57 percent of Uruguayans supported fewer restrictions on abortion, and 63 percent were against a presidential veto on the bill.

Church leaders in Uruguay warned that Catholic lawmakers voting for the bill could face excommunication, a statement that sparked criticism from across the political spectrum.

In the region, Cuba has the most permissive abortion laws, and Mexico City allows abortions on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy.

A congressional committee in Brazil defeated a measure to legalize the procedure earlier this year.

(Writing by Hilary Burke, editing by Fiona Ortiz)

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