By Teresa Vargas Valdes, Chile Country Specialist and Tarah Demant, Women’s Human Rights Thematic Specialist
In Chile, it’s criminal to get an abortion, even when the life of the mother is at risk. Since 1991, several congressional bills have been presented in Chile in order to allow exceptions to this restrictive law, the most recent of which was in April 2012, when the Senate rejected three motions that would have decriminalized the legal interruption of pregnancy in three different contexts: when the life of the mother is at risk, rape and when the fetus is not viable.
The current total abortion ban allows for not such exceptions, and this extreme restriction on women’s reproductive health rights not only conflicts with international law, it also puts the lives of countless women and girls at risk.
Yet the tide may be about to turn for women’s rights in Chile: since her election in 2013, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet has maintained her promise to promote the decriminalization of abortion in the three above circumstances.
On May 20, President Bachelet reaffirmed her platform when the government announced the reforms as part of Chile’s adoption of recommendations made under the United Nations Universal Periodic Review.
This week, the Chilean President in an interview with the newspaper El País, announced the government is reviewing pending motions in the Congress related to advance in the decriminalization of abortion and she estimated the support to an initiative will occur during the second semester of 2014.
Women’s rights groups and human rights organizations have applauded the willingness of the government to re-open the dialogue on this matter, and have called for urgent action to modify current legislation.
“By planning to decriminalize abortion, Chile is showing its willingness to respect and protect women and girls’ rights to life and non-discrimination,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Yet discussion is not enough: while politicians “discuss,” women and girls’ rights to life and health, among others, are at stake on a daily basis in Chile. In the submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in June 2014, Amnesty International reported that, “[t]he stigma around abortion and the chilling effect that criminalization of abortion has, very likely results in the under-reporting of material mortality and morbidity in the country.”
What’s more, women and girls can be prosecuted for seeking medical attention for complications due to attempted clandestine abortions or at-home methods, including using abortive pills that can be easily obtained online.
President Bachelet’s promise to support the decriminalization of abortion in the circumstances of risk to life of the mother, rape, and when the fetus is not viable is a first step to fully incorporating a number of internationally recognized women’s rights into local law.
President Bachelet's promise to support the decriminalization of abortion in the circumstances of risk to life of the mother, rape, and when the fetus is not viable is a first step to fully incorporating a number of internationally recognized women’s rights into local law.
Yet, this is not simply an issue for Chilean women alone. Chile is one of five Latin American countries where there is a total ban on abortion, the others being the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The effects of total abortion bans are devastating and risk the lives of women and girls. That’s one of the reasons Amnesty has launched the My Body, My Rights campaign, a campaign that defends the basic sexual and reproductive rights of all people. We all have the right to make decisions about our own health, body, sexuality and reproductive life, without fear, coercion, violence or discrimination.
Join us to help ensure that Chile and all countries protect the human rights of all people. It’s your body; know your rights!