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From Uruguay, a Model for Making Abortion Safer
With the announcement in April that the Zika virus spreading across Latin America can cause microcephaly in the womb, leaders across the region have come under increased pressure to relax some of the world’s most restrictive laws against abortion.
Only two countries in Latin America have made abortion legal and widely available. Cuba was the first, in 1979; Uruguay the second, in 2012. But it’s the experience of the latter, one of the most democratic countries in Latin America, that offers a lesson in reform — or at least a picture of what is possible.
It started 10 years before the law was passed, with a medical protocol called the “Uruguay Model.” Described by its architects as a “intermediate step” toward allowing abortion, the protocol was designed to make safer the many abortions then being carried out clandestinely.
Indeed, by the late 1990s, unsafe abortions were a leading cause of maternal mortality in Uruguay, accounting for nearly 30 percent of maternal deaths. Nowhere was the problem more pronounced than at the Pereira Rossell Hospital, Uruguay’s main public maternity hospital, which serves a primarily low-income population in the capital, Montevideo. There, nearly half of all maternal deaths were because of unsafe abortions, and in 2001 a group of gynecologists, psychologists, midwives and social workers decided to act.
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