How Uruguay Made It Easier to Have a Safe Abortion

Signs that read in Spanish "Legal abortion" are seen in front of the Uruguayan Congress during a session in Montevideo, Uruguay, Tuesday Dec. 27, 2011. The Uruguayan Senate would approve a bill to decriminalize abortion, after an initiative vetoed by former President Tabare Vazquez in 2008. (AP Photo / Matilde Campodonico)

After Uruguay implemented a harm reduction approach that dealt with abortion as a public health issue rather than a moral one, maternal deaths from unsafe abortions plummeted. Now countries with strict abortion laws are taking notice.

Written by Christine Chung
Published on August 10, 2016

How do you help homeless alcoholics? Few people would guess that giving them a free glass of wine every few hours is part of the answer. But this is known as the harm reduction approach, a strategy or set of policies that aims to reduce the harms associated with certain behaviors – even if they are illegal – but without necessarily ending or reducing those behaviors.

The idea of treating alcoholics by managing their supply, instead of cutting them off completely, was pioneered in Canada and is now being proposed by health experts in Sydney. Giving indigent chronic alcoholics access to shelter and other services while providing them with alcohol is anticipated not only to lead to improvements in their health (or, at least, a less rapid decline), but also to reduce public costs associated with emergency room visits, police contact, court costs and jail time. It’s the same idea behind initiatives that provide heroin addicts with clean needles to prevent the spread of HIV.