Anyone who has been following abortion rights laws in the world knows about the complicated story of the Chilean government and its strained relationship with women’s rights groups. The country was one of the first in South America and indeed the world, to legalise abortions when it did in 1931. But after sixty years of liberal laws on abortion, military dictator Augusto Pinochet banned abortions under all circumstances as a way to grow Chile’s population and absolve his soldiers who often raped women of serious crime. After Pinochet was ousted and the country returned to democratic rule, the laws sustained, even though it was continually challenged by women’s and human rights groups within the country.
Since then the country has registered an average of 30,000 recorded births (according to news reports) and 160,000 according to unofficial estimates and most of these abortions have been unsafe and dangerous. After increasing pressure, the country’s legislature conducted polls that showed 70% of the Chilean population was in support of abortion in certain circumstances, a bill was sent to the house seeking to legalise the practice in those instances (rape, danger to the mother and deadly birth defects in the child detected in-utero).
The bill was approved by the Chilean Senate in late July, and the president vetoed the bill in late August, overturning certain conservative Chilean senators who sought to kill the bill before presidential approval. For a country like Chile surrounded by other South American countries with strong religious dogma and restrictive abortion laws, to pass this kind of law, even with its handicaps, is a triumph. Chile will become a safe haven for women from across the continent looking for a safer alternative to terminate pregnancies, which has been the point of all the agitation and lobby by human rights groups.
Women will terminate pregnancies, they have done so since the days of ancient Egypt and will do so till the end of time, the best we can do is ensure that if this is the path they choose, they have the best options to ensure that the most minimal damage is done.
Congratulations, women of Chile!