MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguayan writers, musicians and two female government ministers have joined an Internet campaign to legalize abortion after a 20-year-old woman was criminally charged for undergoing the procedure.
Abortion is severely restricted in most Latin American countries. In Uruguay, women are only allowed to abort if they were raped, when their lives are endangered or if they suffer severe economic hardship.
A bill to lift the constraints was introduced in Congress, but President Tabare Vazquez, an oncologist, has said he will veto any such measure. The Senate defeated a similar bill in 2004 after the lower house passed it.
Authorities charged the woman last month after she sought treatment in a public hospital for injuries related to the illegal procedure. She remains free while her case is pending.
Three women involved in performing the abortion have been jailed while they await trial, local media reported.
“We felt that people needed a place to express their indignation over the injustice done to this young woman,” said Rafael Sanseviero, a former Communist Party legislator and one of the campaign’s leaders.
Under Uruguay’s 1938 law, women who abort face up to nine months in prison. People who facilitate or perform the operation face up to two years. If the woman dies because of a botched abortion, the penalty jumps to six years behind bars.
About 3,500 people have signed the petition at www.despenalizar.blogspot.com since June 1, including the interior and social development ministers, both of whom are women. Writer Eduardo Galeano and singer Jaime Roos are among the artists who have signed.
“Those of us signing this have violated the law ... either by having an abortion or financing one, by accompanying a woman to have one, (or) knowing the identity of many women who have had one and keeping quiet. Either we are all criminals or the law is unjust,” the Web site says.
An estimated 30,000 abortions are performed in Uruguay each year, according to private groups.
A recent poll showed that 61 percent of Uruguay’s 3.3 million residents support its legalization.
About 65 percent of Uruguayans are Christian, the vast majority Roman Catholics, according to the World Christian Database. But 28 percent are considered nonreligious, 6 percent are atheists, and many Catholics are non-practicing.
Latin America is home to about half the world’s Catholics, and abortion is only fully legal in Cuba and Guyana.
As Pope Benedict began a trip to Brazil in May, he told Catholic politicians they exclude themselves from the Church if they support laws allowing abortion. The Church teaches that abortion is murder.
In April, Mexico City’s lawmakers made abortion legal in the capital during the first 12 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy. The country’s Supreme Court said it will weigh the constitutionality of the new law.