Significant Steps Towards Abortion Law Reform in Chile

A bill set to relax Chile’s highly restrictive abortion ban has stumbled in the legislature, but it still marks an important high-water mark for democracy and reproductive healthcare in the country. Abortion has been criminalized in Chile since 1989 and the dictato­rial regime of Augusto Pino­chet Ugarte; Chile is now one of only six countries in the world that prohibit abor­tion in all cases. Despite legislative resistance, recent polls have suggested that nearly 70 percent of Chileans support abortion in cases where the woman’s life is at risk, when a fetus has a fatal abnormality or when a preg­nancy results from rape. That a bill seeking to reduce rather than to further penalize abortion has been seriously debated in the legis­lature, polled by state and private actors and discussed by the people is a significant departure from the country’s recent past. The impressive shift is demonstrated by the successful mobilization and coming together of broad sectors of civil society to move towards reform as well as the key leadership of Pres­ident Michelle Bachelet. The official legal outcome remains in flux, but it is clear that the voice of prochoice Chileans can no longer be silenced in the public sphere.

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