Chile moves to ease strict abortion laws
Chile’s senate early yesterday took a major step towards lifting the socially conservative country’s total ban on abortions by agreeing to decriminalize the procedure in certain cases. The measure, supported by President Michelle Bachelet, allows abortion in cases of rape, if the mother’s life is at risk, or if the fetus presents a deadly birth defect. After hours of tense debate and more than two years in the making, the senators approved the proposal by voting separately on each measure. Chilean conservatives have rallied against the abortion bill ever since Bachelet introduced it in January 2015.
Nevertheless polls show that 70 percent of Chileans support legalized abortion under those three conditions. Abortion of any type has been strictly outlawed since 1989, during the final days of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. Under current law abortion is punishable by up to five years in prison. Prior to that, for more than 50 years, Chile permitted abortion if the mother’s life was in danger or if the fetus was not viable. The abortion measure still needs approval by the Chamber of Deputies to be signed into law by Bachelet, a pediatrician who returned to office in March 2014 after serving as Chile’s first woman president from 2006 to 2010.
Police kick out protesters
The approval “is a great contribution to the history of Chile,” said Claudia Dides, spokesperson for Miles, a pro-sexual and reproductive rights group. Supporters gathered outside Congress clapped and cheered when news broke that the measure was approved. Debate however continues over finer points, such as what role parents will play in the case of pregnant minors. The approval comes ahead of November presidential elections in which Bachelet will not participate.
She said that she will make the measure’s approval and full implementation a priority before she leaves office in March 2018. “It’s an act of cruelty to not allow women to decide,” said pro-government Senator Guido Girardi during the debate. Conservative Senator Ena Von Baer warned that she would send the measure to the Constitutional Tribunal for review, claiming that it denies protection to the child that is about to be born. During the debate police were called in to remove religious activists from the chamber because they kept interrupting debate with anti-abortion chants.
Lawmakers from Bachelet’s Socialist party have tried in the past to introduce abortion bills, but they have always been voted down by the legislature. Bachelet, who was a senior United Nations official working on female empowerment issues after her first term in office, has seen her support wane due to administration scandals. Opinion polls show that in November voters will likely re-elect right-wing former president Sebastian Pinera. —AFP