BELGIUM & CHILE – A history of abortion pills, civil disobedience and disbelief

It all started with the screening of a documentary film in 2016 at the Festival des Libertés in Brussels called The Abortion Hotline: Real Stories. It is about abortion in Chile when abortion was still totally prohibited, about an information hotline that helped women get access to misoprostol, which at the time was in the hands of the criminal classes, who were selling the pills at prohibitively high prices. Abortion was partially legalised in Chile on three grounds the following year. Watching the film during the festival, a young woman who was working in the family planning sector and campaigning for access to legal abortion in Belgium was thinking to herself that something had to be done. She was going to Chile a few weeks later with a friend who was also an activist, and she decided she would put some abortion pills in her suitcase to give them a group there who would know what to do with them.

She contacted the friend she was travelling to Chile with and together they ordered two boxes of 40 abortion pills online. Unfortunately, the pills did not arrive before they left. In fact, the pills had been seized at customs by the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products. On their return from their trip, they discovered they had been charged with various crimes related to the illegal importation of abortion drugs, plans to sell them without authorisation, and criminal conspiracy. For this, they faced a possible five years in prison and a € 100,000 fine. They got legal representation and went through four years of legal proceedings. With the support of the Center d’Action Laïque and other activist groups, they challenged the charges as an issue of public health and the state of necessity of women living in countries without access to safe abortion, who needed help. Luckily, the judge recognized the state of necessity, as a mitigating circumstance. But it was only in January 2021 that the two women were finally cleared.

Women are also still waiting for the full decriminalisation of abortion in Belgium. A bill that has the support of a majority of Deputies in the parliament has already been referred four times to the Council of State, something described as “unheard of in parliamentary history”. However, during the formation of the new federal government, in September 2020, the Christian Democratic & Flemish Party was informed that the bill will be considered only after long study by the House Justice Committee.

FULL REPORT (en français): RTBF Belgium, by Camille Wernaers, 26 April 2021.

The documentary about Chile in 2016, The Abortion Hotline: Real Stories by Fernando López Escrivá, MC2 Communication Media, is very good too!!! It’s about an hour and has been watched almost 22,000 times. It’s in Spanish with English subtitles. The visual above refers to Chile  and is from the documentary.