A 24-year-old woman and her ex-partner are engaged in both a legal battle and a race against the clock in an abortion case without precedents in Uruguay, the only country in South America where the procedure is legal.
Last week a judge in the city of Mercedes in the west of the country ruled the woman could not terminate her pregnancy after her former partner lodged a legal appeal to prevent her from doing so.
The controversial decision – which was handed down when the woman was 10 weeks pregnant and just two weeks away from the legal cut-off of 12 weeks for abortions in the country – has divided a nation that is well known for its comparatively liberal stance on social issues.
Handing down her ruling, Judge Pura Concepción Book argued the woman’s decision to terminate the pregnancy against her ex-partner’s wishes contravened international child-protection treaties and the Uruguayan Constitution, as well as infringing on the rights of the father.
Legal delays could see the woman forced to proceed with an unwanted pregnancy
The magistrate also ruled the woman had not respected the terms of the 2012 law that legalized abortion.
Along with Cuba and Puerto Rico, Uruguay is the only place in Latin America where abortions are legal, but for women who wish to terminate their pregnancy, the process is lengthy and involves steps including a meeting with an interdisciplinary medical team and a five-day period of reflection. The abortion is then authorized – as long as it is the woman’s choice.
The woman in the current case says she has no feelings for the father of the child and is not a stable relationship with him. For his part, the man has promised to take care of the child.
The young woman’s lawyer has appealed the magistrate’s ruling, saying her client’s paperwork is in order, while the Coordinator of the Legal Abortion in Uruguay group has called the judge’s decision “abhorrent,” arguing the decision to terminate a pregnancy is that of a woman alone.
The group also highlights that the two people involved in the current case had an informal relationship only, and that under the law fathers do not have parental authority until a child has lived more than 24 hours. The organization also notes Uruguayan law does not make provision for the rights of unborn children.
Uruguay is the only country in South America where abortions are legal but the approval process is complicated
But the Uruguay Magistrates Association has backed the ruling of the judge overseeing the case, arguing any legal complaints must go through the proper channels.
Meanwhile time is running short and the father’s lawyers are taking as long as possible to respond to his former partner’s appeal. And with judges possibly taking as long as several weeks to deal with the case, the woman could find herself obliged to continue with an unwanted pregnancy because the 12-week cut-off point has passed.
Everything now depends on whether the courts give the case priority.
No matter what decision the court reaches on this matter, the man has also lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court on the issue of whether fathers have rights from conception onward.
English version by George Mills.