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Demonstration Chile
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Abortion in Chile

Dagmar Breitenbach, Conor Dillon
January 2, 2015

Chile's health minister resigned after saying that abortion is more accessible to people with financial means. Her words re-opened a debate in the deeply Catholic country, where the practice is banned.


"I do not regret the things I said," Chile's former Health Minister Helia Molina told the Canal 13 television station on December 30.

The reference was to a recent interview with the Chilean daily "La Segunda" on abortion, during which she made clear that her country's blanket ban on the practice did not affect each Chilean equally.

"In all upper-class clinics, many conservative families have had their daughters abort," the then-minister said, adding, "People with money do not need laws, because they have the resources."

The government of Chile's Socialist President Michelle Bachelet reacted promptly to the critique, announcing Molina's resignation last week.

Though the Health Ministry later issued a statement saying Molina's declaration represented her "personal opinion" but not the government's, the government's secretary general, Alvaro Elizalde, confirmed Molina's resignation and said Bachelet had accepted it, adding that the president thanked the 67-year-old for her role at the head of the ministry.

In the headlines again

Across the Chilean political spectrum, the minister's interview and resignation provoked wide-ranging reactions.

According to the opposition conservative PC party, Molina's words were "extremely grave." Meanwhile, Chilean Senator Felipe Harboe of Molina's center-left PPD party said in an interview with Chilean daily "La Tercera" that the former minister was giving voice to "a reality."

Javier Macaya of the right-wing conservative UDI party accused Molina and the current government coalition of center, center-left and left parties of "dividing Chileans" on social issues. Guillermo Teillier, head of the country's minority communist party, criticized "certain protocols that prohibit ministers from being able to say things with a clear voice."

Plans for partial legalization

Bachelet, a physician who once headed the Health Ministry herself, had announced plans last year to decriminalize "therapeutic abortion" in three specific circumstances: in cases of rape, if the fetus is unlikely to survive outside the uterus, or if the life of the mother is at risk.

Chile permitted abortion if the mother's life was in danger or the fetus was unviable until 1989.Then in one of his final acts, dictator Augusto Pinochet outlawed abortion in all cases.

While the Chilean president's plans have yet to be made concrete, the former health minister's comments reopened a debate on abortion in Chile, which is regarded as having among the strictest set of abortion laws in South America. Abortion is currently banned in all cases and has been a punishable offense since 1989. According to official figures, however, there are tens of thousands of illegal abortions every year.

According to information from the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, 68 countries, representing 25.5 percent of the world's population, either prohibit abortion to save a woman's life or ban it altogether as of 2014.

Since 1998, the Center for Reproductive Rights has produced "The World's Abortion Laws" map to "visually compare the legal status of induced abortion in different countries."

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