Chile Revokes Anti-Abortion Law Bequeathed by Dictator

  • Chile one of 9 countries that penalizes abortion in all cases
  • Bill will now face challenge in the Constitutional Court

Activists holding placards supporting abortion take part in a pro-abortion demonstration in Santiago, on July 25.

Photographer: Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images

Chilean lawmakers passed a bill legalizing abortion in a limited number of cases, revoking an complete ban imposed by former dictator Augusto Pinochet. Conservative leaders have already challenged the law in the Constitutional Court.

Chile is one of just nine countries that criminalize abortion in any of its forms. Now, the bill will legalize abortion in the case of rape, fetal unviability and if the mother’s life is at risk. President Michelle Bachelet can only sign the bill once it has been through the court.

"Today women recover a basic right that we should never have lost: to decide when we are going through moments of pain," Bachelet said on Twitter. "I am hopeful that the Constitutional Court will listen to the voice of the majority."

Bachelet had vowed to pass this bill before her four-year term ends in March, even as her popularity fell and her government struggled to approve education, health-care and pension reforms. The bill faced fierce opposition from the right-wing coalition Chile Vamos, and even from some lawmakers in the Christian Democratic Party, a member of Bachelet’s ruling alliance.

More than 70 percent of Chileans support legalizing abortion in each of the three cases included in the bill, according to the government. Senators voted 22 to 13 to approve the bill Wednesday.

"This is historic, a great triumph that will allow Chilean women to feel safe," said Claudia Dides, the director of advocacy group Miles Chile, by phone from Valparaiso. "We think that the Constitutional Court will solve this quickly because no one wants to see it becoming tangled in the political agenda for the next presidential election."


Changing Society

"Our society has changed," Dides said. "Ignoring this fact meant choosing to remain in a very small club of countries that limit individual freedom."

In Chile, 271 people were charged for performing or undergoing abortions between 2010 and 2014, and 85 were convicted, according to Miles Chile. While abortion is illegal in Chile, the law does not penalize medical interventions that accidentally result in an abortion. There were a total of 30,049 such cases in 2014, according to the Health Ministry’s latest figures. Miles Chile calculate that the new law would apply to about 12,000 cases every year.

Still, the bill may hang on the deciding vote of the Constitutional Court’s president. At the moment, that is Christian Democrat lawyer Carlos Carmona, who was appointed by Bachelet. He is widely thought to be supportive of the bill, but his mandate finishes on Aug. 29 and he will be replaced by conservative judge Ivan Arostica.

To get the bill to the court before Arostica takes over, two government agencies and two ministers lobbied congressmen to speed up the vote, with it clearing both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate on Wednesday.

"As a government we have been preparing for this scenario and we will defend the bill in the Constitutional Court," Claudia Pascual, Minister for Women, told reporters on Tuesday.

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