Bolivian lawmakers voted Wednesday to ease the country's tight restrictions on abortions, shrugging aside opposition from religious groups.
The Legislative Assembly vote will allow "students, adolescents or girls" to have abortions up to the eighth week of pregnancy. The measure doesn't specify ages, but it appears to apply to girls up to and including 17 years old and older students who still depend on their parents or guardians.
Abortion in Bolivia currently is allowed only when the woman's life is in danger, in the case of a malformed fetus or in cases of rape or incest. Illegal abortion carry prison terms of up to three years.
President Evo Morales has said he'll sign the measure, despite opposition from Catholic and Evangelical churches in the country.
Health Minister Ariana Campero said abortion is the third-leading cause of maternal death in Bolivia and the government has estimated that more than 80,000 clandestine abortions occur each year in the country of about 11 million people.
"They are not safe. They are induced with herbs or in clandestine places. That's why this reform helps greatly," she said.
The local Catholic Church has staged large marches against the reform and the spokesman for a national anti-abortion movement, Luis Aruquipa, said the measure "encourages genocide."
Neighboring Chile in August approved a measure easing the last absolute ban on abortions in South America. Elsewhere in Central America and the Caribbean, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominic(asterisk)an Republic prohibit abortions in all cases.