Chile’s Senate Passes Abortion Bill

After more than two years of Congressional deliberations, on July 19th, 2017, the Chile Senate passed an abortion bill that will allow women to access safe and legal abortion services in cases of life-endangerment, sexual violence, and fatal fetal impairments. This bill seeks to overturn Chile’s absolute ban on abortion, which has been in place for nearly thirty years since being enacted under the Pinochet regime.

President Michelle Bachelet introduced abortion legislation in January 2015. The abortion bill passed in Constitutional and Health Committees within both the Cámara de Diputados —the lower house of Chile’s Congress—and the Senate. Now the bill goes back to the Cámara de Diputados for approval.

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 May 2017 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—the principal human rights body for the Americas—hosted a hearing on the status of Chile’s abortion law reform, where the Center for Reproductive Rights, Miles Chile and Isabel Allende Foundation testified and implored the Commission to call on the Chile to prioritize passage of the abortion bill. The bill has widespread support from women’s rights organizations in Chile, international and regional human rights experts, and influential voices in Chile, such as Isabel Allende.