Chile Congress lifts abortion ban – in limited cases

SANTIAGO – Chile’s Congress has approved a bill that would legalize abortion in limited circumstances, easing the strict ban in effect since the final days of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship nearly three decades ago.

The measure, which was passed with a 22-13 vote late Wednesday, allows abortion in cases of rape, if the mother’s life is at risk or if the foetus presents a deadly birth defect.

President Michelle Bachelet backs the measure and has said she would sign it into law. But it still needs to be approved by Chile’s Constitutional Tribunal.

“We are satisfied. We have delivered alternatives, and safe health care options, to all women, regardless of the decisions they make,” said Claudia Pascual, Minister for Women and Gender Equality.

Opposition senators argue the measure violates the constitution.

Under current law, abortion is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The latest move ends the country’s status as the last in South America to ban all abortions. Until now, the South American country has been part of a small group of socially conservative nations that barred abortion under all circumstances – including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Gabon, Haiti, Malta, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Senegal.

Chile legalized abortion for medical reasons in 1931. But abortion was banned under all circumstances during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Chileans had to wait until 2004 to be able to divorce, and until just two years ago to enter into same-sex civil unions.