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Abortion brings bishops and feminists together in Bolivia | The World Weekly

Any abortion is a crime,” claimed Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, in 2013. However, he also acknowledged that he was not an expert on the topic and expressed his willingness to discuss it with female ministers.

Now the issue is high on the agenda again as Mr. Morales’ party, the Movement for Socialism (MAS), last week presented a controversial bill to decriminalise abortion during the first eight weeks of pregnancy in situations of extreme poverty. Parliamentary President Gabriela Montaño said the reform is an adjustment of the criminal code to the Bolivian reality, in which “the poorest women die in clandestine clinics for badly practiced abortions”.

The bill also stipulates that students and women with at least three children would be eligible for an abortion. Bolivia is one of the countries in Latin America that already views rape, abduction, incest and health risks for the mother as possible exceptions to allow abortions. However, civil society organisations say women face difficulties in obtaining the necessary authorisation.

About 600 women die every year in Bolivia as a result of secret abortions, according to the NGO Somos Sur.

The bill has faced criticism from very different sectors of society. The Catholic Church accused the ruling party of choosing a “violent” path to solve the country’s social and economic problems and of surrendering to “foreign ideological colonisation”.

On the other side of the spectrum, pro-abortion groups also voiced their disagreement with the proposed law. “They should then promote vasectomies for poor and irresponsible men,” the feminist collective Mujeres Creando told The World Weekly. It argues the Bolivian government must legalise abortion without imposing any restriction apart from the eight-week timeframe.

Mr. Morales has tried to detach himself from the controversy by saying that he was not involved in the parliamentary bill, but Mujeres Creando criticised his lack of empathy and commitment to Bolivian women: “He never says a word on the male abortion that consists of abandoning a pregnant woman”.

In Latin America, only Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico and Uruguay allow abortion without restrictions. In 2014, the Bolivian Supreme court ruled against total decriminalisation, but eased the way to consider certain cases. Nonetheless, legalisation of abortion is slowly advancing in the region.

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