Chilean lawmakers made a significant step toward lifting the ban on abortion imposed in 1989 by the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship by voting to advance the reform aimed at overturning the prohibition.
With an eight to six vote, the Health Commission of Chile's Chamber of Deputies approved President Michelle Bachelet's proposal to allow pregnancy terminations in three circumstances: when the pregnancy resulted from a rape, when the life of the mother is at risk, and when the fetus has serious defects.
Now the bill will still need to win simple majorities in both the chamber of deputies and the senate. This could be a difficult goal as the legislation divides lawmakers even those members of the governing coalition of Bachelet.
"This is not a measure to promote abortion. What we're doing here is turning the state's choice into a choice for women," said Deputy Gabriel Silber, whose Christian Democratic Party, part of the governmental coalition, is split over the reform.
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.
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. Only five other countries have the same ban: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Malta, the Dominican Republic and Vatican City. An estimated 120,000 women have illegal abortions in Chile each year.
Abortion in Chile was legalized in 1930, but in 1989 the Augusto Pinoche regime put a ban on this practice.