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Puerto Rico launches hearings on bill to restrict abortions

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico held its first public hearing on Tuesday on a bill to restrict abortions in the United States as powerful political leaders who support the measure seek to join a similar conservative push on the American continent.

If approved, the bill would ban abortions from 22 weeks or when a doctor determines a fetus is viable. The only exception would be if a woman’s life is in danger. Most US states already have similar laws, unlike Puerto Rico, where abortions with no time limit are currently permitted.

The hearing comes amid the belief that a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court could override or weaken a constitutional right to abortion stemming from Roe v. Wade of 1973. Currently, 44 US states have thresholds for abortions, many at 20–24 weeks or fetal viability.

Among those testifying at Tuesday’s hearing were women who gave birth to premature babies several years ago and brought them to the hearing in a bid to demonstrate that they were saved.

“A 22-week-old is viable because it happened to me,” Cathy Sue Cordero said as images of the girl she gave birth to flashed on nearby screens.

Following their testimony, the women faced pointed questions from nearly a dozen senators, the majority of whom oppose the bill.

“I wish all women in Puerto Rico had the opportunity to make their own decisions about their bodies,” said Senator José Antonio Vargas Vidot, who is also a doctor.

Vargas and other senators who spoke against the measure noted that those who testified were loving parents who wanted to have a baby and had very good health insurance, including a plan that covered an air ambulance to save the baby. of Cordero, which she had in the United States. continental.

Meanwhile, Senator Joanne Rodríguez Veve, who is one of the authors of the bill, said it was the government’s responsibility to protect the lives of children, especially those she believed might survive. outside the uterus. She also dismissed concerns raised by critics who referred to children born to unwilling parents or being abused.

“These children will find other arms in which they will be held, cared for and loved,” she said.

The hearing drew a few dozen people who remained largely silent except for a moment in which a supporter of the bill shouted “Amen!” to a statement made by one of the witnesses.

There are few recent polls on the issue in Puerto Rico, although according to a 2017 Pew Research survey, about three-quarters of people in the United States oppose abortion in all or most cases, a higher percentage than among Puerto Ricans living in the United States. continental.

Attending the hearing were members of a pro-life group who said they disagreed with the bill because they supported a comprehensive ban on abortion.

In late March, a Puerto Rico Senate committee overseen by Rodríguez approved the bill by a 9-3 vote. The Senate was then expected to vote on it earlier this month, but sent it back to committee following criticism that no public hearing had taken place.

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