Last week, the Chilean Congress voted on a proposal to lift the total abortion ban after almost two years of debate.
The bill that passed through the lower congressional house last week will allow abortions in circumstances of deadly birth defects, risk of the mother’s life, and rape. The bill passed rough the chamber with a significant majority including votes from members of the conservative Christian Democrats. A public opinion poll found that approximately 70% of people approved of the ease in abortion regulations. The bill will proceed to a Constitutional Tribunal and if the judges on the court decide to review the law, a decision must be made by August 28, 2017.
Like 6 other South American countries, abortion in Chile has been outlawed entirely since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet who acted as head of Chile’s military government from 1973-1990. Since 1989, those caught and charged in abortion cases faced up to 15 years in prison. But the risks are not only legal, as the total ban also forced women to seek clandestine abortions, which are often performed in unsafe and unsanitary locations and come with significant health risks.
The issue of abortion sparked public interest in 2013 after an 11 year old girl became pregnant after she was raped by her mother’s partner. While the conservative country was outraged by the incident, the young girl was forced to endure the pregnancy because Chile did not allow abortion under any circumstance. President Michelle Bachelet called for “a therapeutic abortion” to protect victims of rape and has made ending the abortion ban a major priority of her most recent four year term, which ends next spring.
The United Nations considers legal abortion to be a human right, stating in a 2016 joint statement that “Criminalization of abortion and failure to provide adequate access to services for termination of an unwanted pregnancy are forms of discrimination based on sex.” Around the world, approximately 50,000 women a year die because they are forced into unsafe abortions, making it one of the leading causes of maternal death.
On his second day in office, President Trump reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, a deadly U.S. policy that forbids international nongovernmental organizations (NGO) receiving US global health funding from providing, counseling, advocating or even referencing abortion, even if these activities are done with non-US funds. Marie Stopes estimates that Trump’s Global Gag will lead to the deaths of more than 21,000 additional women over the next three years.
Media Resources: New York Times 8/3/17; CNN 8/3/17/; Time 8/2/17; BBC 3/18/2016; Ms Magazine 7/13/2013; Feminist Majority Foundation 2/24/17;