Chilean Chamber of Deputies approves bill to decriminalize abortion

With 75 votes in favor, 68 votes against and 2 abstentions, the lower house of the parliament endorsed the bill that decriminalizes voluntary termination of pregnancy in Chile within the first fourteen weeks of gestation

September 29, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
On September 28, thousands of women took to the streets in different parts of Chile demanding reproductive rights as a part of the Global Day of Action for Free, Safe and Legal Abortion. Photo: Mesa Accion Aborto/Twitter

This International Safe Abortion Day brought some good news for the feminist movement and women in Chile. On September 28, the Chamber of Deputies of the National Congress approved a bill to decriminalize elective abortion in the country, amplifying recognition of sexual and reproductive rights of women.

With 75 votes in favor, 68 votes against and two abstentions, the lower house of the parliament endorsed the bill that decriminalizes voluntary termination of pregnancy by women within the first fourteen weeks of gestation.

The bill still has a long legislative journey ahead of it in order to become a law. However, its approval in general in the lower house is a major step towards future legalization of a procedure that is severely restricted across the Latin American and the Caribbean region.

According to the information shared by the Chamber on its Twitter account, the bill now will return to the Women’s Commission for the definition of its articles. Then, it will be debated and voted again in the lower house, before moving up to the Senate. After being passed by the upper house, it will be presented to the president for his approval.

The approved bill, submitted in 2018 by the progressive opposition legislators, seeks to change the existing law, approved in 2017, which allows abortion in three conditions: when the pregnancy puts the woman’s life at risk, when the fetus is unviable, or when pregnancy is the result of rape. The bill also seeks to reform the Penal Code that punishes women who have abortions with up to five years in prison.

Nationwide celebration

The decision was hailed by women, feminist and women rights movements across the country. Thousands of women, who took to the streets in different parts of the country, demanding this integral human rights as a part of the Global Day of Action for Free, Safe and Legal Abortion, collectively celebrated the news.

Feminist Coordinator 8M welcome the approval of the bill and hoped that “it will soon become Law.” “Today, the idea of ​​legislating the decriminalization of abortion is approved in the Chamber of Deputies. This is not the legislation that we expect to access a dignified abortion, but it is a step towards its legality,” said the organization in a tweet.

The Gender Observatory also applauded the decision and considered the general approval of the decriminalization of abortion an “important progress towards voluntary motherhood.” The feminist organization stressed that the women “want full sovereignty over our bodies and our lives!.”

The Feminist Teachers’ Network, also celebrated the approval of bill and emphasized that they “will continue to educate and fight for sexual and reproductive rights, especially for an integral sexual education that allows everyone to decide.”

Lawmaker Maite Orsini of the left-wing Democratic Revolution party, one of the promoters of the bill, described the approval as “a triumph for our grandmothers and mothers, for their pain and their hope. We hope that sooner rather than later, at last, it will become a law.”

Deputy Karol Cariola of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), another promoter of the bill, during the debate in the parliament, said that “the criminalization of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy is also a form of gender violence (…) and advancing in matters of sexual and reproductive rights is advancing in gender equality.”

Communist Deputy Camila Vallejo also celebrated the approval of the bill. “Decriminalization of Abortion is approved! This is for all women and pregnant people who have been persecuted and criminalized, especially if they have fewer resources. Down with patriarchy, it’s going to fall, going to fall! Up with feminism, it will win!,” Vallejo wrote a tweet.

Irací Hassler, member of the PCCh and mayor of the Santiago commune, rejoiced at the decision. “No more clandestine abortions that risk the lives of women: this law is an urgent measure of public health and autonomy over our bodies and our lives,” said Hassler.

Javiera Reyes, member of the PCCh and mayor of the Santiago municipality of Lo Espejo, congratulated Chilean women on the significant achievement and called on women voters to vote for the left-wing ‘Approve Dignity’ coalition in the upcoming general elections. “It is a tribute and great pride for all the comrades who have fought for the decriminalization of abortion. We deserve to decide on our bodies, our lives. Salute to the Approve Dignity bench, which voted in favor of this policy so long-awaited by many of us. We will continue,” tweeted Reyes.

Gabriel Boric, the presidential candidate of the Approve Dignity, through a series of tweets, assured that his government would support the legalization of abortion. “All the deputies of the Approve Diginity platform voted today for the decriminalization of abortion up to 14 weeks. As a collective, we are committed to introducing in our government a bill to legalize abortion, worked on together with all the organizations that have pushed this demand in recent decades,” said Boric.

“Abortion in Chile is a reality that crosses economic and social barriers, that is why the State must guarantee the delivery of optimal conditions for every woman [and person] who decides to end their pregnancy, because motherhood should be desired or it should not be. We continue until it becomes law,” Boric said in another tweet.

Abortion in Chile

According to the women rights organization, Humanas Corporation, until 2017, before the approval of abortion in three conditions, around between 60,000 and 70,000 clandestine abortions were performed annually in Chile. Likewise, according to data from the Chilean health ministry, between 2018 and 2020, only 1,827 legal abortions were carried out across the country. This figure suggests that tens of thousands of women are still ending their pregnancy in unsafe conditions.

Decriminalization of abortion in the country would allow thousands of women, adolescents and persons who can gestate to access the procedure in safe conditions without the fear of being prosecuted.

Abortion is highly regulated throughout the region. It is only legal in a handful of Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Cuba, Guyana, Uruguay, and Argentina. In recent years, feminist collectives across the region have been pushing for decriminalization or legalization of abortion. Earlier this month, thanks of one of such struggles, Mexican Supreme Court unanimously ruled that penalizing abortion is unconstitutional.

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