Inter-American Commission Holds Hearing On Chile’s Abortion Law Reform

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Center for Reproductive Rights, Isabel Allende, and Miles Offer Powerful Testimony on Importance of Decriminalizing Abortion
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(PRESS RELEASE) Reproductive health and human rights advocates advocated for the decriminalization of abortion before the main human rights body for the Americas today in a hearing on the status of Chile’s abortion law reform.

During the hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Miles Chile and the Isabel Allende Foundation testified on the abortion law reform process in Chile and implored the Commission to call on Congress.

The Chilean Senate voted on January 25 to advance an abortion bill that would allow women to access safe and legal abortion services in cases of life-endangerment, sexual violence, and fatal fetal impairments. However, Commissions within the Senate have delayed debating the specific articles of the bill.

Said Lilian Sepúlveda, vice president of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“As a woman, a mother, and a Chilean, it’s time my government reform its abortion laws.

 “Chile’s abortion ban has forced too many women to continue with unplanned pregnancies that put their health at great risk.

“The Inter-American Commission and reproductive health allies worldwide must continue to press the Chilean Congress to pass this critical abortion bill.”

At the hearing, a Chilean woman Paola del Carmen Valenzuela shared her heartbreaking story of carrying an unviable pregnancy to term in 2015. Renowned author and activist Isabel Allende asked the Commission in a video message to call on the Chilean government to approve the abortion bill as written.

Said Claudia Dides Castillo, director of Corporación Miles Chile: 

"If the bill is not approved in the coming months, Chilean women and girls will continue to suffer anguish and humiliation, as well as being treated as criminals, for having to access abortion services under one of the three exceptions"

Currently, Chile and Suriname are the only two countries in South America that do not explicitly permit abortion in any circumstances – even when pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s life.  Nearly 200,000 unsafe abortions occur each year in Chile, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

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, 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 obligating 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—the most comprehensive resource to track abortion laws across the globe.