Time for Change

The Center is pressuring the Chilean government to advance a bill that could pave the way toward the decriminalization of abortion.

There are no words to describe having to carry an unviable pregnancy to term.

Just ask Paola Del Carmen Valenzuela, a Chilean woman who was forced to do just that under her country’s draconian abortion law which prohibits terminations under any circumstance - even in cases of rape or when the pregnancy endangers a woman’s life.

Chile and Suriname are the only two countries in South America that do not explicitly permit abortion in any circumstances, and nearly 200,000 unsafe abortions occur each year in Chile.

For Valenzuela, a 40-year-old microbiologist, it was her second pregnancy. At her first ultrasound she
received the devastating news that the pregnancy had a fatal fetal impairment and would not survive. The condition, which causes limbs and other vital organs to become entangled, was so severe that shortly after gestation the fetus lost an arm.

Valenzuela was heartbroken, and at
a loss of what to do. Her doctor recommended that she “Pray, pray a lot.”

Of the experience Valenzuela recalls:

I felt that my son was dying and every day of it was torture. I was also afraid that a miscarriage would happen and I would be blamed.

 

At 14 weeks, after suffering substantial bleeding, she returned to the doctor and discovered the fetus’
heart was living outside of its body.

“At that point my son's condition was so horrible that [the doctor] would apologize to
me for describing it,” she said. But still she was forced to continue with the pregnancy until, at 22 weeks, she began having contractions and delivered a dead fetus.

Valenzuela’s story is not unique. It represents just one of countless women in Chile who are unable to access safe and legal abortion care at home.

That’s why the Center for Reproductive Rights partnered with two organizations, Miles Chile and the Isabel Allende Foundation, to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the need to advance an abortion bill that would allow women to access safe and legal abortion services in the case of life-endangerment, sexual violence, and fatal fetal impairments. Watch the video of the hearing (Spanish):

At the hearing, Valenzuela shared her painful story alongside renowned author and activist Isabel Allende who appeared via video message, pleading with the Commission to recommend that the Chilean government approve the new abortion bill:

As a woman, a mother and a grandmother, I defend the right to own my body. As president of my foundation, I know too well the dangers of illegal abortion. And as a Chilean citizen, I am aware that
penalizing abortion affects mostly pregnant women and girls of lower income who cannot resort to expensive and discreet procedures.

 

The Center also demanded that the Commission declare Chile responsible for the human rights violations perpetrated against Valenzuela, and other women like her.

In the coming weeks, the Chilean government is anticipated to vote to advance a bill that could pave the way for the decriminalization of abortion in three cases: when a pregnancy pose a risk to a woman’s life, when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or when a pregnancy is not viable due to a fatal fetal anomaly, as was the case with Valenzuela.

After the bill is voted on in Congress, it will advance to the Constitutional Tribunal - the highest court in Chile. In an effort to ensure the bill gets signed into law, the Center is preparing to file an amicus brief that will advise the court on the right to abortion under international human rights law. This would be the first law of its kind in Chile to advance women’s reproductive rights on abortion. 

It is imperative that Chile reform its abortion laws, and at the Center, we are committed to continuing to fight to protect the rights of Chilean women, and those of all women around the
world. 

“Far too many women like Valenzuela have suffered at the hands of the country’s blanket ban on abortion,” said Lilian Sepúlveda, Vice President of the Global Legal Program at the Center. “It is high time that the Chilean government change its restrictive abortion laws, and start protecting women’s reproductive rights.”

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