CHILE – Advocates say fight continues despite rejection of new constitution last year that would have enshrined reproductive rights

Standing on the steps of the Chilean National Library in the heart of Santiago, waving their fists in the air and wearing green scarves, symbol of the Latin American movement for abortion rights, dozens of women chant: “Abortion yes, abortion no, that’s my decision”.

Abortion was completely illegal under the dictator Pinochet in Chile. Since 2017, it has been legal in three circumstances: non-viable pregnancies, rape or risk to the woman’s life. A years-long push by advocates to broaden those grounds suffered a serious blow last year when Chileans rejected a new draft constitution that would have enshrined reproductive health and bodily autonomy as fundamental rights.

An estimated 400,000 women gathered on 8 March 2023 to mark International Women’s Day in Santiago and across the country, calling for access to safe, free and legal abortion as one of the Chilean feminist movement’s key demands.

“Women in this country lost a huge opportunity,” said 19-year-old student Antonia, who was among the protesters. “Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction,” she said of last year’s proposed constitution. Between 2017 and January 2022, only 2,313 legal abortions were officially registered in Chile, well below expectations. Reproductive rights advocates say that those seeking abortions, even if their reasons fall within the three allowed circumstances, continue to rely on underground networks due to stigma and judgement by medical professionals.

In November 2021, deputies voted down a motion to decriminalise abortions up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, with 62 deputies in favour and 65 against. Chilean politicians are currently in the process of drafting a second constitutional reform proposal. President Boric had promised to legalise abortion if elected, but may not try this year, according to Women’s Minister Antonia Orellana.

SOURCE: AlJazeera, by Charis McGowan, 10 March 2023