Abortion in Chile

abortoCHILEOn January 31st, 2016, it will be one year since the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, introduced a bill into Congress to allow abortion in instances when the mother’s life is at risk, fetal non-viability due to hereditary or genetic malformation, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape.

After almost twelve months, the bill is still waiting to be approved. Meanwhile, Chilean women are still putting themselves at risk carrying unhealthy or unwanted pregnancies to term, or having unsafe abortions in a country that has an absolute ban on the procedure.

Chile’s cruel and draconian law was passed in 1989, during Augusto Pinochet’s regime, and despite twelve attempts to amend it, Congress has repeatedly voted in its favor over the years. Under this rule, abortion is a crime regardless of the circumstances.

The prohibition also establishes that anyone involved in an induced abortion, including health care professionals, can face up to five years in prison. The Code of Criminal Procedure also determines that health care providers have an obligation to report women whom they suspect have had an induced abortion. This requirement has created a climate of fear, doubt, and confusion among health care providers, who, when a woman comes to them seeking medical attention after an unsafe abortion or miscarriage, often call the police.

According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, in 2014 alone, 113 women were involved in judicial investigations for “voluntary abortion”, but most women never face charges. Currently, there are approximately ten people in custody accused or convicted for the crime of abortion.[1]

However, Miles, a non-governmental organization pushing the bill, estimates that between 2010 and 2014, 497 women and men were accused and 73 were sentenced.[2] The reality is that Chilean women who choose to have an abortion, abroad or in their own country, are denied their human rights, and have to live with the consequences of an unfair law, social stigma, unsafe abortions, and criminalization.

It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of abortions carried out each year in Chile, because they are all clandestine and illegal, and therefore under reported. The Ministry of Health has counted more than 33,000 women admitted to hospitals for abortion-related injuries every year. More than 10% (3,600) are young girls and teenagers between 10 and 19 years of age. However, other estimations put the annual figure between 60,000 and 70,000, or even as high as 160,000.[3]

If there are approximately 90 abortions per day, as the most conservative figures indicate, it is imperative to change the law to uphold at least the minimal standards of human rights. Chilean women need a law that guarantees access to legal and safe abortion in cases where the pregnancy poses a risk to their health or life, the pregnancy is the result of rape, or when the fetus is not viable. Furthermore, they should not be threatened, intimidated, or prosecuted when seeking medical attention for complications after miscarriages or unsafe abortions, because that is a violation of their fundamental rights.

We are aware that Chilean women need a repeal on abortion more than a reform, but we also believe that if the Congress approves the bill, Chile will be a better place for all women, as there will be one less patriarchal restriction imposed upon them. The proposed law would not apply to most abortions, but hopefully, in time, it will be the foundation for other amendments, and can ultimately lead to the decriminalization of abortion under any circumstances.

safe2choose supports Chilean women in the fight for the recognition of their human rights and hopes that the bill will be passed very soon. We want a world where all women can decide over their bodies and life freely, so this is why we do our best everyday to be an alternative for women when their governments turn their backs on them.

By Bárbara Hernández, a feminist activist, passionate about women’s rights and mental health awareness. As safe2choose’s counsellor, Barbara helps women all over the world access information on safe abortion globally.

For more information about safe abortion, visit www.safe2choose.org.

[1] Amnesty International, Chile’s failure to protect women and girls: The criminalization of abortion is a Human Rights violation, June 2015, PDF document, 20 December 2015, p. 6, http://amnistia.cl/web/informe/chile-does-not-protec-women/Amnesty International

[2] “Argumentos para la discusión sobre la interrupción legal del embarazo” in Miles por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos, Website, 20 December 2015, http://mileschile.cl/?page_id=1626

[3] Amnesty International, p. 1-2.