Chilean Abortion Bill Clears First Hurdle

On January 25, the Chilean Senate voted 20-15 in favor of legalizing abortion in the country under three specific circumstances: fetal infeasibility, when the mother’s life is at risk, and when pregnancies originate from rape. The vote was preliminary, and many details of the bill have yet to be determined. However, the Senate’s approval increases the chances of Chile changing its restrictive abortion laws. Current law criminalizes abortion in all cases and imposes penalties of up to five years in prison. Despite the harsh penalty, it is estimated that 200,000 illegal and unsafe abortions occur in Chile each year. This dangerous practice has led to 33,000 women being hospitalized with abortion complications each year in Chile.

Abortion in Chile was legal under the three situations currently being debated until 1989, when dictator Augusto Pinochet criminalized it shortly before leaving power. The bill will return for a final vote in March, after which abortion could be legalized. The preliminary approval by the Senate, however, marks the culmination of a major promise from Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s re-election campaign in January of 2015.

The United Nations called on Chile to amend its abortion laws to fulfill the requirements of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in June 2015. Chile remains just one of six nations around the world to prohibit abortion in all situations.

The bill has proved divisive among lawmakers, with a few from Bachelet’s own coalition choosing to abstain from voting on the legislation. In contrast, it is remarkably popular among the public as a whole with 72 percent of Chileans in support.

While the specifics of the legislation and the result of the final vote will not be known until March, it appears that Chile is moving in line with the rest of the world in regards to abortion access.