Puerto Rico Joins Four U.S. States, Restricting Abortion Rights

Is Puerto Rico quietly trying to restrict abortion, joining eight U.S. states doing an end run around Roe v. Wade? I'm not sure how this got passed me. And further, why isn't this being reported in U.S. mainstream media?

Only seven days after the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's Senate introduced restrictions on abortion. The bill dubbed "Law for the Protection of Women and the Preservation of Life" or PS 950—was introduced by Senator Nayda Vargas, who is also an evangelical minister—places many restrictions on abortion. To his credit, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares promised when the bill landed on his desk in March 2019, he would veto it. And he did, however, so-called pro-life activists aren't satisfied. They want another crack at restricting abortion to Puerto Ricans.

Prior to January 22, 1973, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of striking down Texas's abortion ban—making abortion legal throughout the U.S.—abortion had been against the law on Puerto Rico. As a territory/colony of the U.S., once the decision for Roe vs. Wade declared the ban unconstitutional, by default it was legalized in Puerto Rico and the other four colonies.

And Puerto Rico had no restrictions to receiving an abortion. This included young girls not requiring consent and late-term abortions. PS 950 seeks the following:

  • Requires girls under the age of 18 to have parental or legal guardian consent
  • Ban abortion after 20 weeks—even in instances of rape, incest and if the fetus is diagnosed with genetic disorders. The exception is if it's determined that carrying the baby to term would create a medical emergency. (One instance that I can't say I disagree with is sex-selective abortion. This screams of eugenics to me and I find it creepy.)
  • A 48-hour waiting period
  • Physicians performing abortions are to force in-person informed consent by requiring women to view an ultrasound of their baby.
  • Should a baby survive an abortion attempt, it is protected under Puerto Rico law. This means if initially the baby survived but the doctor made a second attempt to abort and succeeded, the physician would be charged with felony murder.

Any physician caught violating any of these statutes would face up to 15 years in prison.

Restricting access to abortion for young women under the age of 18 is pretty contradictory given the legal age of consent to marry on the island is 16. If a woman of 16 can be legally married and have a child without permission from her parents, why must she wait until she is 18 to have an abortion? Currently there is no age restriction on women being treated for a sexually transmitted infection or disease, so the new age restriction is punitive.

Forcing women to have a child who has a genetic disorder or is the result of rape or incest are also extremely punitive measures. Who then should have to pay for the care of this child?

If a woman has chosen to have an abortion, she's already aware she is terminating a potential life, therefore requiring her to view an ultrasound of the fetus is cruel and puts undo pressure to keep the child.

Where Things Are Now With Legal Abortion in Puerto Rico

Making good on his promise, Governor Rosselló Nevares vetoed the bill. So-called pro-life lawmakers want to override the veto, which will require a two-thirds majority vote in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

My concern if PS 950 passes is this: even if a woman, in particular a young woman, is well within her legal right to abortion, she may elect not to seek out a medical professional out of fear.


Safe and legal abortion photo credit: Colleen Eliza

Pro-choice doesn't mean people are pro-abortion. It simply means we need access to safe and legal abortion. We already know what happens when access to safe and legal abortion is restricted or banned: women die, they can become infertile and/or are forced to raise a child they're not in any emotional, financial or physical condition to raise. Nobody wins.

It's unclear whether it will pass the veto override.

Featured image photo credit: WS Mireland