Chile's Senate Health Commission Approves Abortion Bill

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(PRESS RELEASE) This week Chile’s Senate Health Commission agreed to advance a proposed bill that would allow women to access safe and legal abortion services in cases of life-endangerment, sexual violence, and fatal fetal impairments.

The legislation, which was introduced by President Michelle Bachelet in January 2015, will face a full Senate vote before heading to President Bachelet for her signature. On March 1, the Constitutional Commission within the Cámara de Diputados approved the bill.

Chile is one of seven countries in the region that does not explicitly permit abortion under any circumstances. Nearly 200,000 unsafe abortions occur each year in Chile, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Said Lilian Sepúlveda, vice president of the global legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“For almost three decades Chilean women have put their health at risk if they need to end a pregnancy. This has to stop once and for all.  

“The Senate Health Commission took a critical step in putting an end to Chile’s abortion ban and bringing the country in line with the more than 35 countries across the globe that have liberalized their abortion laws over the past two decades.

“Now the full Senate must follow the lead of President Bachelet, the Cámara de Diputados and the Health Committee by passing this historic bill that supports women’s health and human rights.” 

Although Chile’s 1931 health code legalized abortion in limited circumstances, a law passed in 1989 banned abortion under all circumstances – even when pregnancy endangers the woman’s life. 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.

In June 2015, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (U.N. CESCR) called on Chile to quickly approve legislation to reform its restrictive abortion law. The U.N. CESCR oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a treaty that requires member states to ensure equal enjoyment of a broad range of rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health, for all individuals.

In a report to the U.N. CESCR, the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that the total criminalization of abortion and limited access to emergency contraception in Chile violate women’s rights to health, non-discrimination and substantive equality, as well as the right to non-regression, since women previously had access to legal abortion in limited circumstances.

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 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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