Published On : Fri, Oct 22nd, 2004
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(Oct. 22, 2004) Chile, the only country in South America to have outlawed abortion completely, also has the highest clandestine abortion rate in Latin America, says a new report. According to an international study by the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, each year there are 50 clandestine abortions for every 1,000 women of reproductive age in Chile.

This number exceeds both Brazil and Colombia, with 40 and 30 covert abortions respectively, where abortions are possible under certain circumstances such as rape. It also surpasses underground abortion rates in Germany and Holland, where abortion is legal.

The results of the study were presented during the Second Dialogue on Sexual Health, organized by Chile’s Ministry of Health, the National Service for Women (SERNAM) and the Institute of Reproductive Medicine (ICMER).

Dr. Aníbal Faúndes, who coordinated the investigation said the study shows that the legalization of abortion, as in countries like Switzerland, does not imply a higher amount of abortions.

“Here (in Chile) there is one of the lowest maternal mortality rates per abortion, but without a doubt also the highest rate of abortion in the region,” Faúndes said.

Almost 6 million clandestine abortions take place around the world every year, according to the study. Amongst the countries with highest rates are Russia, Romania and Vietnam.

Chile’s official statistics number abortions at 40,000 per year. However, these numbers are drawn only from women who have been arrested for abortion, those who die after botched abortions, and those who are forced to go to the hospital to treat complications.

The number is most likely higher, including women who have successful at-home abortions or go to private clinics. Experts estimate the true number is closer to 160,000.

Chile’s deep-seated Catholic tradition provides a religious base for outlawing abortion. However, the number of illegal abortions still taking place, often in private clinics and hospitals where prices are as steep as the social stigma is entrenched, points to a disparity between cultural policy and daily practice.

Commercials showing a young girl terrified of telling her parents she’s pregnant and a fetus pleading for life demonstrate Chile’s awareness of its underground problem.

Cultural factors and lack of information have been cited as possible reasons for the discrepancy. Traditionally the male partner has been responsible for sexual decisions such as birth control, a situation that limits women’s options and can leave them with an unwanted pregnancy.

Lack of understanding and access to birth control have also been pinpointed as causes. According to experts, the best steps to take are providing correct, easily understandable facts and options so that pregnant women can make informed choices. Assuring access to quality service and implementing sexual education programs in schools are also key components in fighting illegal abortions.

By Caitlin Miner-Le Grand (

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