Chile’s Health Commission Approves Abortion Bill

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(PRESS RELEASE) Rape survivors will be able to access safe abortion services within 14 weeks of pregnancy according to the latest version of Chile’s abortion bill advanced by the Health Commission.

The original bill introduced by President Michelle Bachelet in January 2015 permitted women access to safe and legal abortion services in cases of life-endangerment, sexual violence, and fatal fetal impairments. After deliberations within the Health Commission on the limited circumstances safe abortion should be allowed, members approved all the provisions but restricted the time limit a rape survivor can access safe abortion services from 18 to 14 weeks of pregnancy. The bill will now be examined by the full Camara de Diputados—the lower house of Chile’s Congress—and voted on later this month.

Currently Chile is one of only five countries in the region that totally bans abortion. Nearly 200,000 unsafe abortions occur each year in Chile, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“While imposing arbitrary limits on when a woman can access safe abortion is unnecessary, we commend Chile’s Health Commission for taking action to ensure that rape survivors can get access to safe reproductive health services.

“We hope the progressive voices in the Camara de Diputados and President Bachelet can work quickly to pass this bill and ensure its adoption so legal abortion becomes a reality in Chile.”

Chile’s 1931 health code legalized abortion in limited circumstances, but this reproductive health service was later banned on all grounds in September 1989. In 2008, the most recent year data is available, more than 33,000 women were hospitalized due to abortion complications according to the Chilean Ministry of Health.

The Pan American Health Organization—the world’s oldest international public health agency—has long recognized that sexual violence is a reproductive health problem that affects quality of life, causes emotional and behavioral problems, and complicates childbirth. And although an estimated 1.68 million women in the Americas are raped each year, only eight countries in the region allow abortion in cases of rape.

“Chile’s Health Commission is moving towards defending the basic health and rights of women and girls with this abortion bill,” said Paula Avila-Guillen, advocacy adviser for Latin America &, the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Sexual violence is far too prevalent and we commend the commission for taking the health needs of rape survivors into account.”

In June, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (U.N. CESCR) called on Chile to quickly approve legislation to decriminalize abortion. The U.N. CESCR oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a treaty obligating member states to ensure equal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights for all individuals.

In a report to the U.N. CESCR, the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that the total criminalization of abortion and the restrictive access to emergency contraception in Chile violate women’s rights to health, non-discrimination and substantive equality.

According to a 2014 report published by the Center, 35 countries have amended their laws to expand access to safe and legal abortion services in the last 20 years—a trend that has marked incredible progress toward improving women’s rights and lives, including significantly reducing rates of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion. The report was released alongside the Center’s updated World’s Abortion Laws map—one of the most comprehensive resources on abortion laws across the globe.​

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