(PRESS RELEASE) Today the Chile Senate voted to advance an abortion bill that if enacted will allow women to access safe and legal abortion services in cases of life-endangerment, sexual violence, and fatal fetal impairments.
President Michelle Bachelet introduced abortion legislation in January 2015 and the Cámara de Diputados —the lower house of Chile’s Congress—voted to advance the bill in March 2016. By a vote of 20 to 15, the Senate today agreed to advance the current abortion bill. Next, commissions within the Senate will debate the specific articles of the bill.
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.
“The Senate took another important step today towards ending Chile’s abortion ban,” said Lilian Sepúlveda, vice president of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Too many women in Chile have put their health at risk to end a pregnancy. It is time for the government to pass this critical legislation that supports women and their reproductive rights.”
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 June 2015, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (U.N. CESCR) called on Chile to quickly approve legislation to reform its restrictive abortion law. The U.N. CESCR oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a treaty obligating member states to ensure equal enjoyment of a broad range of rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health, for all individuals.
In a report to the U.N. CESCR, the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that the total criminalization of abortion and limited access to emergency contraception in Chile violate women’s rights to health, non-discrimination and substantive equality, as well as the right to non-regression, since women previously had access to legal abortion in limited circumstances.
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 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—the most comprehensive resource to track abortion laws across the globe.