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Chile reviews abortion laws

Sertan SandersonMarch 18, 2016

Lawmakers in Chile have approved abortion in limited circumstances, lifting a decades-old ban in the conservative South American country. The measure still has to pass through the country's Senate.

Women in Chile celebrating the introduction of the new law
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bueno

Under measures approved by the Chamber of Deputies, Chile's lower house of Congress, abortion could soon be allowed in certain cases, including rape, risk to the mother's health, or when the fetus is no longer considered viable. However, Chile's Senate first has to approve the legal draft.

The deputies voted separately on each of the circumstances tabled under the draft, with the margin of approval turning out to be wide in each case. However, conservative opposition lawmakers vowed to take the case to the Constitutional Court, decrying the bill as a violation of the rights of the unborn.

Abortion had been legal in Chile before 1989 in cases of risk to the mother or an unviable fetus before the practice became outlawed. Ever since, Chile has remained one of the few countries in the world not to allow abortion under any circumstances – a measure introduced by ex-dictator General Augusto Pinochet shortly before his departure from power in 1990.

The prohibition remained unchanged for more than twenty-five years because of pressure from the Roman Catholic Church and other conservative groups.

A touchy subject on many levels

An estimated 160,000 clandestine abortions are nevertheless carried out each year in Chile - sometimes under risky circumstances. Polls indicate that 70 percent of Chileans say they support the new bill. Illegal abortions remained accessible mainly to wealthy Chileans only; making the issue both a moral question and an economic one.

Lawmaker Rene Manuel Garcia from the conservative Renovation National Party (RN) tried to appeal to Chileans' conflicted feelings about their past by equating abortion with the crimes committed by the Pinochet regime: "We could say that the military government or the dictatorship - whatever you want to call it - killed adults. You kill them before they are born. What is the difference between those two crimes" Garcia said.

Chile parliament
The abortion bill still has to pass through the country's Senate after parliamentary approvalImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bueno

Others claimed that the motion would amount to a prelude to euthanasia, slavery or the assassination of unborn disabled children.

Meanwhile Camila Vallejo, one of the lawmakers backing the new law, said that if men gave birth, "abortion would have been allowed long ago."

ss/jm (AFP, EFE)