Chilean President Moves to Legalize Abortion

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has submitted a bill to the Chilean Congress that would liberalize the country’s abortion laws, allowing for abortion in the case of rape or when the pregnancy threatens the mother or baby’s life.

Chile has had a long-time ban on abortions for any reason.

In making the suggested changes to Chilean law, Bachelet cited Chilean obligations under international law that abortion must be legal. This is a common claim from abortion advocates–that certain international instruments and comments of UN committees have obligated UN Member States to legalize abortion. In 2011, a number of legal experts, including judges, lawyers, and law professors, drafted the San Jose Articles that asserted, “There exists no right to abortion under international law, either by way of treaty obligation or under customary international law.”

Bachelet also said that abortion is needed in Chile to save women’s lives. However, Chile has some of the most detailed data in the world on that issue, and the data show abortion is not needed for reasons of maternal health.

Chilean epidemiologist Dr. Elard Koch, who is on the faculty of the University of Chile, published a massive study that showed maternal deaths declined by 70% after the total ban on abortion was instituted in 1989.

Koch also found “in the period from 1957 – 2007, the maternal mortality rate decreased 93.8%. In fact, according to experts, Chile has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the Americas, with the exception of Canada.

Even with abortion totally illegal, Chile’s maternal mortality rate is lower than the United States, where abortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason.

Bachelet is a popular figure in Chile, having already served as that country’s president from 2006 to 2013. In the intervening years, Bachelet became the first head of a new UN agency, called UN Women, devoted to women’s issues. Bachelet was an ongoing advocate for abortion at the UN.

It is not clear whether Bachelet will get her way. Chile remains a conservative country, and abortion is totally illegal in many Latin American countries, where abortion is not a left-right issue like it is in the United States. Many socialist parties, including those in Bachelet’s own governing coalition, oppose legalized abortion. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua, for instance, made abortion illegal for any reason in their country many years ago.


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