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President Alvarado signs technical norm, essentially legalizing therapeutic abortion in Costa Rica

December 12, 2019

Costa Rica’s president, Carlos Alvarado, has signed a technical norm that defines when the country’s medical professionals can legally perform an abortion.

While the norm does not expand or change any laws, it in essence will for the first time allow women whose lives are threatened by a pregnancy to legally choose an abortion.

“In compliance with the commitment I made for the life and health of women, together with the Minister of Health, I have signed the technical standard,” President Alvarado wrote on social media.

“With this we seek to settle a historical debt with the women of this country. … This decision is to save women’s lives and protect their health.”

The Social Security System (CCSS) has six months to enact the new norms.


Since 1971, Costa Rica’s Criminal Code has recognized the right to an abortion when it poses a danger to the pregnant woman. It requires that the woman give consent and that the procedure be carried out by a health professional.

Despite what the law stipulates, though, many doctors have feared performing a therapeutic abortion because of the lack of a protocol that establishes the procedures to follow and the precise conditions in which the law is applied.

Read more: Costa Rican government fighting misinformation about abortion norms

In the 20 years prior to 2018, the Social Security System, or Caja, had registered fewer than 80 abortions in a country where 70,000 births are attended annually.

The technical norm clearly defines when and how an abortion can be performed.

“The technical norm is not an opening for free abortion nor does it extend the law,” said Alejandra Acuña, Deputy Minister of the Health Ministry. “It is a guide for the medical professionals who treat these cases to have greater certainty and technical security to address the care of women when their life or health is in danger.”

The archbishop of San José and other lawmakers have opposed the technical norm.

Costa Rica is a conservative and religious country where the Constitution consecrates Catholicism as the official state religion.

“Our goal with this technical standard is to protect the life and health of women in cases of danger during pregnancy,” Acuña said.

She added that the norm will “guarantee comprehensive care, understandable and timely information for all women in this situation.” 

Click here to read the full text of the technical norm.

 

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