Until recently, Chile was one of the toughest countries in the world to get an abortion. Along with El Salvador, Malta, the Vatican, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, Chile's laws stated that women were not able to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy for any reason. However, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet has been at the forefront of a campaign to decriminalize therapeutic abortion (abortion after diagnosed medical necessity), and after two and a half years of discussion and debate, she enacted a law on Thursday that allows pregnancies to be terminated in three cases: Danger to the health of the mother, rape, and fetal infeasibility.
The law was passed by Chilean Congress in August under a cloud of controversy, but the Constitutional Court dismissed challenges from conservative lawmakers. At the enactment ceremony at the Palace of La Moneda in Santiago, Bachelet spoke about some aspects of the law in detail, explaining that the law implies adequate confidentiality and the procedure will be carried out under safe conditions. Similarly, if the case involves minors, there will be adults who help them decide, but they will be chosen by the girl herself. Women must receive medical attention in a timely manner, and if a woman's life is at risk, a conscientious objector can not excuse themselves from interrupting the pregnancy.
Therapeutic abortion was first legalized in Chile in 1931, but dictator Augusto Pinochet forbade it shortly before the end of his reign of terror in 1990. Chilean society has been governed by many of the laws left over from the Pinochet dictatorship for the past 3 decades, but the socialist Bachelet government has been attempting to update these outdated and conservative regulations. Her government has also passed the civil union agreement, which included homosexual couples, and reforms to the educational system to ensure thousands of young people have access to free education. She now has her sights on the discussion of marriage equality before the end of her term in 2018.
The biggest challenge for the future of reproductive freedom in Chile will be to ensure that women all over the country have access to adequate medical care, an issue which is exacerbated by the social and geographical complexities of a a nation that is heavily divided between the big cities in the centre, and the countryside to the north and south. Bachelet is optimistic: “The women of Chile have conquered, or reconquered, a basic right, the power to decide for ourselves in the face of extreme cases," she said. “There is no more powerful and humanistic doctrine than learning to respect people's private choices and decisions."
Header image by Alex Proimos via Wikimedia Commons, body image via Twitter
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Molly McLaughlin is a travel and culture writer currently based in Mexico City. Her work has appeared in publications including Lonely Planet, Refinery29 and Ms. Magazine. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @mollysgmcl.