Local health workers back reform of Chile’s anti-abortion laws

By and
Published On : Mon, May 5th, 2014

Battle looming in Congress as right-wing parliamentarians vow to fight government proposal to ease the country’s blanket ban on abortion.

Local health workers back reform of Chile’s anti-abortion laws

The Health Ministry said 46 women died as a result of pregnancy complications in 2011, eight of those as a result of illegal abortion. Photo by Violette Le Gall / The Santiago Times

Local public health workers called on all parliamentarians to support a government proposal to allow abortion in the case of rape or danger to the mother’s health over the weekend — a move which has already been ruled out by right-wing members of Congress.

Chile is one of six states in the world which bans abortion in all cases, alongside the Philippines, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Malta and the Vatican City. A total of 13 bills to ease the ban — one of the last acts of dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet — have been sent to Congress since 1991, but recent high profile cases of child pregnancy as a result of rape have put the issue back into the center of national debate.

On Sunday, Esteban Maturana, head of the Confederation of the Municipal Public Health Workers (Confusam), backed the reform promised by President Michelle Bachelet during her presidential campaign and reiterated last week by members of her cabinet.

The proposal would allow abortion in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is at risk or when the fetus is non-viable.

“We’re pleased that the government [is proposing] an initiative of this nature, we will back it with all we have,” he told press. “What’s more, we call on all parliamentarians, including those from the right, to pass this [proposed] bill into law.”

Last Tuesday, the Justice Ministry and National Women’s Service (Sernam) put the issue back on the agenda, saying the government would send its bill to Congress by the end of next year.

Bárbara Paulson, spokesperson for Sernam, told The Santiago Times that Chileans were ready to back reform to the country’s blanket ban on abortion.

“I think it has taken so long for the law to change because Chile is historically a very traditional country,” Paulson said. “But the country is changing — 67 percent of Chileans are now in favor of abortion [in cases of rape].”

But opposition remains. On Sunday evening, members of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI), which has more representation in both the upper and lower house than any other single party, said they would not support the proposal.

UDI Dep. Juan Antonio Coloma said his party would always be “in favor of life.”

“We’re not afraid of debate because there will always be different opinions, Coloma told press. “We won’t back Confusam’s declarations and we won’t support an advance to any type of abortion.”

For their part, the center-left Christian Democrats (DC), part of the Bachelet’s Nueva Mayoría electoral pact, say they will await the actual bill before supporting the administration’s proposal.

DC Dep. Gabriel Silber stressed his party would only support a bill which was limited to the three circumstances currently being debated.

“We want to see the details of the administration’s proposal first,” Silber said. “We believe this is an issue that must be legislated in very restricted terms and, obviously, always protecting unborn life, so we want to discuss the bill in great detail before it comes to voting on this material.”

Despite the ban on abortion, tens of thousands occur annually in the country. According to the Report on Human Rights in Chile published in 2013 by Universidad Diego Portales, 70,000 clandestine abortions take place every year.

The Health Ministry said 46 women died as a result of pregnancy complications in 2011, eight of those as a result of illegal abortion.

By Belinda Torres-Leclercq & Celia Scruby
Copyright 2014 – The Santiago Times

About the Author

Celia Scruby
Celia studied English Literature at The University of York and worked for the Daily Mail before coming to Santiago. She specializes in arts and culture.
Belinda Torres-Leclercq
Belinda studied political sciences and Latin American studies in several European Universities. She wrote on food issues for Latin American news organization Noticias.nl and blogs about Chilean politics for MO*. Contact her at belinda@santiagotimes.cl or follow her at @BelindaMTL on Twitter.