Chile—On the Doorstep of Change?

“A Debt of Democracy: Abortion in Chile” by Claudia Dides and Tessa Maulhardt (Vol. XXXVI, No. 1) had interesting insights into gynecologists in Chile and the vision and medical interventions we achieved in an earlier era. During an important period of my training, I had the privilege to work under the protection of a Chilean Health Code provision that allowed us to accommodate the requests of women whose lives were endangered by their pregnancies or were carrying a fetus with severe malformations. In one of the last orders by the military regime governing at that time, this provision was reversed, and thus we became one of the very few countries where women have no way to act upon their desire to end pregnancies that put their lives at risk or that become truly torturous. This is the “debt of democracy” explained by the authors.

Much has been said about abortion over the years, especially from the pulpit and in legal settings, but these spaces are dominated by men, and few female voices have been heard. Likewise, few medical voices have been heard, especially those who agree with decriminalization but have not been able to overcome taboos and openly discuss the issue. Many people have placed medical professionals on a pedestal, and some doctors fear damaging this image.

In reality, doctors’ positions are not so precarious. We learn from the article that during the 1960s, the medical community pushed Chile to “the forefront of reproductive health in Latin America.” This happened because doctors worked with the government and refused to bow down to objections from the hierarchy and its allies.

Precisely when Chile began to live under a military regime absolutely prohibiting abortion, I had the privilege of beginning a lengthy involvement of more than 10 years in the field of sexual and reproductive health with International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region. I subsequently designed and launched activities to stimulate and influence policies in countries across the Latin American and Caribbean region that were successful in modifying some strict guidelines on abortion in some places, but not in Chile. As Dides and Maulhardt point out, the subject has been “untouchable” for far too long, but open discussion is changing that. At the moment, the Chilean parliament is finally debating legislation to decriminalize abortion in three specific cases. We hope to reach a happy ending very soon.

DR. GUILLERMO GALAN
Board Secretary, Miles Chile
Santiago, Chile

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