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Chile moves closer to easing abortion ban

Chile has taken a step closer to decriminalizing abortion in some cases. President Michelle Bachelet aims to get the bills passed before elections in November.

Chile's senate on Wednesday approved a set of bills decriminalizing abortion in certain cases.

Abortion is currently banned in the socially conservative country and can be punished with up to five years in prison.

Easing abortion restrictions is supported by Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who has been working for nearly two years to get the measure passed.

"It's a historic morning," Bachelet said in front of the presidential palace after the bill passed. "The senate approved depenalizing abortion in three cases, which means we can be a country where women can make the best decision possible when faced with such situations."

The senate voted separately on bills to allow abortion in cases of rape, risk to a mother's life and if the fetus shows signs of having a birth defect.

The bills must now be passed by the Chamber of Deputies, or lower house, for approval. Chile is one of only a handful of countries worldwide where abortion is illegal without exception.

Watch video 02:24

'It's not only about abortion - it's about women's rights'

November elections

Supporters hope the lower house can pass the measure without amendments before November presidential elections in which Bachelet is constitutionally barred from participating. Opinion polls suggest conservative former president Sebastian Pinera, an opponent of abortion, is likely to win the election. Bachelet had pledged to reform abortion laws when she took office for the second time in 2014.

Conservatives and the Catholic Church have been outspoken opponents of abortion, even though opinion polls show 70 percent of Chileans support abortion in the three cases.

Conservative Senator Ena Von Baer threatened to take any law easing abortion restrictions to the constitutional court. Other lawmakers joined her: "It is a sad day for Chile," said Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, a senator for the far-right UDI party. "We are
going to take [the bill] to the constitutional tribunal."

Chile's abortion ban came into effect in 1989 towards the end of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

cw/rt (AFP, dpa, epd)

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