Chile moves to ease strict abor­tion laws

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

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

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