Uruguay’s anti-abortionists fail to convince voters to support a referendum

Only eight percent of electorate in favor of petition

Elvira Palomo
Pablo Abdala of the conservative National Party cats his vote in favor of the referendum.
Pablo Abdala of the conservative National Party cats his vote in favor of the referendum.SANTIAGO MAZZAROVICH (EFE)

Anti-abortionists in Uruguay suffered a devastating defeat on Sunday when they failed to muster enough support to call a referendum on a recently approved law that legalizes abortion in the South American nation.

Campaigners in favor of revoking the law needed 25 percent of Uruguay’s 2.62 million registered voters – some 655,192 people – to sign on to the petition for a referendum that would have been held in October. The country’s electoral council reported that with 99.7 percent of the votes counted in a special election, only 239,302, or eight percent, had voted to support the referendum.

Anti-abortionists immediately recognized their defeat after the results were announced.

“This was never a question about victory or defeat; this was all about citizen participation,” said Pablo Abdala, a deputy of the conservative National Party and one of the leading supporters of the referendum.

“What is significant is that all the presidential candidates from all the parties voted today,” he added. Among them was former President Tabaré Vázquez, who represents the ruling Broad Front (FA) coalition, and is expected to announce his candidacy for a second term for next year’s elections.

The legalization of abortion has divided society in Uruguay, the first country in South America to pass a law in favor of the procedure. Only Cuba and some local governments, such as Mexico City, allow for terminations even when there are no urgent health reasons. Uruguayan President José Mujica had argued that permitting abortion would help save the lives of many women.

This clearly shows that the Uruguayan society is willing to continue moving forward"

A poll earlier this month showed that 46 percent of all Uruguayans were in favor of keeping the law while 38 percent said they wanted it repealed.

Passed in 2012, the law states that abortions can be performed on women up to the 12th week of pregnancy but under strict governmental guidance. Women are required not only to see a gynecologist but also psychiatrists and social workers, who will inform them about the risks of interrupting a pregnancy and offer them other options.

Feminist groups and abortion-rights advocates praised Sunday’s results.

"The fact that it wasn't enough for a referendum clearly shows that the Uruguayan society is willing to continue moving forward," the activist group Woman and Health said in a statement on its website.

Juan Carlos Souza, an FA deputy, told EL PAÍS that the results reflect what lawmakers empowered by the people had decided.

Sunday’s vote wasn’t mandatory but public figures such as Jorge Larrañaga and Luis Lacalle, both Nationalist Party leaders, and the archbishop of Montevideo, Nicolás Cotugno, came out to cast ballots. But it was the appearance at the polls of former President Vázquez – who disagreed with his party over the abortion issues – that gained the most news coverage.

“In Uruguay everyone knows my position,” he said. “There are things that you cannot measure by political costs and this is one of them.”

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