On Wednesday 13 January, the Chilean parliament began consideration of a bill to legalise abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. There will not be a vote right away: work will begin first in committee. But the importance is strong in this country, where abortion remained completely banned until 2017.
The new bill, supported by a dozen deputies, aims to modify three articles of the Chilean penal code , Articles 342-343-344. At the moment, they provide for prison sentences for any abortion with the exception of three grounds: rape, risk to the life of the woman, and a non-viable fetus. The proposed modification is as follows: all these penalties would remain, but only beyond the 14th week of pregnancy. In other words, before that deadline, abortion would become legal.
The Catholic Church is very powerful in the country and will campaign against the proposed law. But unlike Argentina, where the president supported reform, in Chile the conservative government will undoubtedly be behind the Church. The Chilean Minister for the Status of Women, Monica Zalaquett, is one of the most radical: she is against abortion even in cases of the rape of a minor.
Feminist activists are very mobilized, however, and are at the forefront of the entire social protest movement that has shaken the country for many months. Feminist associations stress that the current situation, as in Argentina, leads to a record number of clandestine abortions: between 70,000 and 200,000 per year. While it is impossible to have a more reliable figure, in either case it is huge. Even in cases authorized by the 2017 law, more than half of doctors refuse to provide abortions in the name of conscientious objection and the information gap on the subject is considerable. Many Chilean women therefore seek to obtain misoprostol on the internet to abort. But it is expensive, and so it often ends in unsafe abortions at home.
The whole question is whether there will be a cascading effect across Latin America after the vote in Argentina. This is what the Chilean activists hope, because Argentina is a regional “heavyweight”. The whole continent has therefore carefully observed the debates in Buenos Aires. Today, on the South American continent, abortion is authorized, in addition to Argentina, only in Uruguay and Guyana. Let’s add Cuba and Puerto Rico if we include the Caribbean. Everywhere else, it is either severely restricted or totally prohibited. So a green tide is hoped for in the coming months.
Santiago was the scene of peaceful protests led by women who demanded the legalization of abortion on 13 January, the day on which Congress began the discussion on reforming the law. More than 200 women gathered in the vicinity of La Moneda, the Government Palace, with green scarves around their necks. The opposition to abortion were there too.
The current law, since 2017, covers only 3% of the abortions that take place in the country, say social movements, who therefore consider the current legislation insufficient.
The Commission on Women and Gender Equity initiated hearing on the bill, with a speaker from the Corporación Humanas, Camila Maturana; Gloria Maira, from the Mesa de Acción por el Aborto; Deputy Camila Rojas on behalf of the authors of the motion, and Ximena Ossandon, who was concerned about the decision to put a limit of 14 weeks to end the criminalization of abortion. Questions about comparative legislation were asked and will be answered. Deputy Maria Jose Hoffmann from the ruling party said the processing of this initiative was painful for her and that amending the Penal Code was at least in part one more step to achieving free abortion.
SOURCES: FranceTV, 12 January 2021 ; Camara.cl, inc. photo, 13 January 2021