By a vote of 50-49, the Uruguayan congress passed a law during a late-night session on Sept. 25 legalizing abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
The legislation now goes to the senate for approval and must be signed by President Jose Mujica, who has already voiced his support for the measure.
It passed after more than 13 hours of debate and one day after thousands of pro-life advocates marched in the capital city of Montevideo, urging lawmakers to vote against the bill.
The law holds that a woman who wishes to obtain an abortion must appear before a commission of doctors and social workers who are to provide her with information about her choice. After a five-day waiting period, she will be free to decide whether to proceed with the abortion.
The bill also includes a conscience protection clause for doctors and nurses who want to opt out of abortions. They will be required to notify their administrators and their decision will be honored at all health care facilities where they practice.
Catholic hospitals and other institutions that object to abortion will not required to perform them, but are mandated to send women who want to undergo the procedure to other medical facilities that provide the service.
The debate on the measure in congress began at 10 a.m. local time on Monday, while outside the congressional building abortion rights supporters and pro-life groups held dual protests.
Representative Daniel Radio called the bill – which was sponsored by fellow Independent Party member Representative Ivan Posada – “a step backwards in terms of civilization.”
To call it “a voluntary interruption of pregnancy is a euphemism for the deliberate cessation of life,” he said.
The congressional vote came after 20 pro-life organizations denounced what they called serious flaws in its approval process.
The Catholic bishops of Uruguay have also voiced their rejection of the legalization of abortion on numerous occasions, saying that was needed instead is an “alternative measure that respects and protects women, maternity, the family and the life of the unborn.”
In 2008, the Uruguayan Congress also passed a law legalization abortion up to the 12th week by a vote of 49-48. Then-president Tabare Vazquez vetoed the measure.