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News > Latin America

Chile: Ruling Coalition Divided Over Abortion Reform

  • "My body, my decision," reads the ban of this Chilean woman. | Photo: EFE

Published 20 July 2015

In Chile, a woman who chooses to abort risks up to five years in prison, making it one in only six other countries in the world to do so.

President Michelle Bachelet's attempt to modify the outright ban on abortion is being undermined as the most conservative factions of the governmental coalition threaten not to support the text , reported Reuters on Monday .

Leaders of the Christian Democrat party, the coalition's senior partner, told the press agency that fewer than a third of its 21 lawmakers in the House of Representative fully support the reform of the abortion ban.

Bachelet's socialist lawmakers would therefore be short of the votes required to pass the reform.

RELATED: Latin America’s Safe Abortion Hotlines: Reproductive Rights 911

Reforming the abortion ban in Chile – which has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world – was one of Bachelet's promises if elected for a second term in 2013. The proposal, introduced in Congress in January, would allow a woman to terminate the pregnancy if her life is in danger, if the pregnancy was the result of a rape, or if the fetus is nonviable.

The most controversial case among the governmental coalition was a termination of pregnancies involving rape.

“A huge majority of the party has doubts about at least one of the three causes for abortion,” said Víctor Torres, one of two Christian Democrats on the health commission of Chile’s lower chamber and a supporter of the reform.

“Right now we only have six deputies who currently support the full bill,” Torres said, noting that a “great majority” of his party’s lawmakers oppose abortion in cases of rape.

“The rape clause will probably be rejected,” said Matías Walker, vice-president of the Christian Democrats. “As for fetal viability, we believe this will pass, but only where the father, when possible, has a say.”

RELATED: For a Global Fight For a Woman’s Right To Choose

However, the idea of a woman needing permission to terminate a pregnancy finds resistance among the supporters of the reform.

Among them, Juan Luis Castro, a Socialist party lawmaker, president of the lower house’s health committee, said he believes the rape clause will pass after debate, possibly modified, but that an amendment on paternal consent would be “difficult to accept”.

“It will be difficult to convince the Christian Democrats, who are relatively conservative, to support other leftist plans down the road after this fight,” told Reuters Esteban Valenzuela, director of political science at Alberto Hurtado University.

When the bill was about to be introduced in Congress, the Chilean health minister had to resign after saying that abortion was more accessible to people with greater financial resources.

Bachelet's position in Congress has been weakened in recent months – her approval rating sank to 27 percent in June, as her education reform faced a fierce and long-standing resistance among the teachers and students of the country.

In Chile, a woman who chooses to abort – even if her own life in in danger, if her pregnancy is the result of a rape or if the fetus is considered non-viable– still risks up to five years in prison, like in only five other countries of the world: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Malta, the Dominican Republic and the Holy See in Rome.

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