SAN JOSE (Reuters) – Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado on Thursday issued a technical decree that will allow for therapeutic abortions in the Central American nation, despite opposition from religious and conservative political groups.

On paper, a 50-year-old law allows a pregnancy to be terminated only if the mother’s health is at risk, but a lack of regulatory clarity at hospitals has meant the law could not be applied.

“This decision will save the lives of women and protect their health,” Alvarado said.

The measure will allow for the first therapeutic abortions to be performed within six months at public hospitals. Private clinics will also be allowed to perform the procedure.

Health Minister Daniel Salas said in a statement therapeutic abortions can be performed if three requirements are met: if there is no other medical alternative, if the woman gives consent, and after mandatory evaluation by three medical professionals.

Costa Rican law states that an abortion is legal if performed with the consent of the woman and performed by a doctor or authorized obstetrician and “when done in order to avoid a threat to the mother’s life or health” and when no other alternatives are available.

Despite Costa Rica’s reputation as a socially forward- looking nation, with high education and health standards, reproductive rights such as in vitro fertilization and abortion are not widely accepted.

But new polling shows that some 58% of Costa Ricans are in favor of implementing the legal changes that will allow therapeutic abortions.

(Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Michael Perry)

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