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Chile Takes Step Towards Decriminalizing Abortion

The lower house of the Chilean congress has approved a reform that would decriminalize abortion before 14 weeks of gestation. This is an important step forward and is a result of recent mass protests, but the fight continues for legal, safe and free abortion in Chile.

Pan y Rosas

October 1, 2021
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Chilean women wear grean and hold up signs at an abortion rally. The sign reads "Aborto legal" or "Legalize abortion"
Photo: Daniel Becerril/Reuters

Last Tuesday, the Chilean Chamber of Deputies — the Lower House of the Chilean congress — took an important step towardsdecriminalizing abortion before 14 weeks of gestation, although several legislative hurdles remain. 

With 75 votes in favor, 68 in opposition, and 2 abstentions, the Lower House ratified a reform of the Criminal Code aimed at releasing any person who voluntarily terminates their pregnancy before 14 weeks of gestation from criminal liability.

In Chile, abortion is only legal in three cases: fetal inviability, rape, or risk to the mother’s life. If none of these conditions are met, abortion can be punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

The bill will now go back to the Gender Committee with amendments, after which it will return to the Chamber of Deputies and then, if approved, go to the Senate.

The proposed policy would decriminalize abortion, but it would not guarantee the right to freely terminate a pregnancy without charge. In Chile, any bills that will result in government spending must be supported by the government. In this case, the government entirely opposes the policy. 

The government and its allies have a large number of anti-choice and conservative supporters in parliament who are not only against free abortions, but also against the decriminalization that is being debated in the Chamber of Deputies.

Diego Schalper, a conservative deputy from the ruling party recently stated that: “Abortion is the end of a citizen’s life (…). While we debate this, innocent children are dying all over the world.” The same anti-choice arguments are made all over the world to deny people the right to make decisions about their own bodies.

Minutes before the vote, about a hundred women wearing green scarves surrounded the building in the capital where the new Chilean constitution is being drawn up, chanting “Free and safe abortion” and “It will be legal,” and calling for the decriminalization of abortion.

On this Global Day of Action for legal and safe abortion, there were protests in various parts of Chile. Workers and activists from the Barros Luco Hospital came together in the capital, chanting “Abortion is a public health issue” and “Legal abortion in the hospital.”

This first vote in the Chamber of Deputies is undoubtedly an important step resulting from the demands made by the women’s movement and the mass protests on the streets, and it will allow us to gain strength in our continued struggle for the right to legal, safe, and free abortion. We need to fight not only for the decriminalization of abortion, but also for its legalization, so that abortions can be carried out without charge and in safe conditions.

Originally published on September 28 in Spanish in La Izquierda Diario.

Translated by Marisela Trevin

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