Chilean President Michelle Bachelet sent a bill to the legislature this weekend that would decriminalize abortion in some select cases. If the bill is approved, it would remove Chile from the dwindling list of countries in the world that retain a complete ban on the procedure.
Under the bill, abortion would be decriminalized in three cases:
- if the mother’s life were at risk;
- if the fetus were inviable; or
- in cases of rape.
“We are offering support to women in very painful moments” with this legislation, Bachelet said during a televised speech Saturday. “It’s intolerable to punish women that find themselves in this difficult position with prison, deprived of freedom.”
Chile’s abortion ban stems back to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who was in power from 1973 to 1990. Before the dictatorship era, abortion was allowed in some cases of medical emergencies. Under the current ban, women who seek abortions face up to five years in prison.
Bachelet’s bill has already prompted opposition leaders and factions within her own New Majority coalition to pledge a fierce fight in the coming weeks. Some high-profile controversies over the procedure have surfaced in recent years, particularly the 2013 case of an 11-year-old girl who was impregnated after being raped by her mother’s partner. Then-President Sebastián Piñera praised the girl’s “depth and maturity” for deciding to keep the baby, reigniting a national furor over the issue. In December, Chile’s health minister resigned over her remarks that only Chileans with more financial resources were able to access abortions.
Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Suriname comprise other countries in the region that still ban abortion in all cases. But lawmakers in the Dominican Republic are also scheduled to debate a bill in the coming weeks to ease restrictions on abortion in cases of rape, incest or risk to a mother’s life.
Bachelet, who was trained as a pediatrician before taking political office, has been pushing through a number of sweeping reform-oriented bills since starting her second term as president last year. In recent weeks, the legislature passed a series of education reforms aimed at more inclusion for Chilean students, as well as a bill approving civil unions for unmarried partners, including same-sex couples.