President Bachelet Introduces Legislation to Decriminalize Abortion in Chile

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(PRESS RELEASE) President Michelle Bachelet of Chile introduced a bill Saturday that would allow women access to safe and legal abortion services in cases of sexual violence, fetal impairments and life-endangerment.

If passed, this bill would make Chile the 37th country to decriminalize abortion in certain circumstances in the last 20 years and put an end to the country’s absolute ban on abortion and the harsh penalties associated with it. Upon her election in May 2014, President Bachelet promised to prioritize the decriminalization of abortion for the women of Chile.

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

“With this legislation, Chile has an historic opportunity to lead the way toward more fully empowering women, protecting women’s health and safety, and fulfilling women’s fundamental human rights throughout Latin America.

“Extreme abortion bans like Chile’s have forced countless women into the shadows when they need to end a pregnancy, risking imprisonment and even their lives.

“While there is much more to do to eliminate the harsh restrictions that have criminalized women’s health care in Chile for too long, this is a bold and important first step.

“We commend President Bachelet for making women’s reproductive rights a legislative priority, and we call on Congress to act quickly to pass this bill.”

The recently introduced bill would only allow women to access an abortion legally within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of sexual assault, in cases of severe fetal impairments and life-endangerment. . While the legislation is an historic and important step to decriminalize abortion in Chile, the proposed law would require authorization from two medical professionals and does not explicitly allow for a health exception.  

“While this proposed legislation is a positive step toward guaranteeing women’s rights, it falls short in protecting pregnant women’s rights to health and dignity,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Chile’s 1931 health code legalized abortion in limited circumstances, but this reproductive health service was later banned in all circumstances in September 1989. From 2001-2012 close to 400,000 women sought post-abortion care in Chilean public hospitals.

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.​