Buenos Aires Times

latin america WOMEN'S RIGHTS IN LATIN AMERICA

Chilean opposition lawmakers propose abortion bill before Congress

Abortion in Chile was decriminalised under the previous government in a landmark vote in Congress last year – but only in cases of rape or in medical emergencies.

Tuesday 21 August, 2018
Demonstrators take part in a march for a legal, safe and free abortion in Santiago, Chile, on Wednesday.
Demonstrators take part in a march for a legal, safe and free abortion in Santiago, Chile, on Wednesday. Foto:AFP-CLAUDIO REYES

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Left-wing opposition MPs in Chile have presented a bill in Congress seeking to legalise abortion in the country, just weeks after a similar bid in Argentina was narrowly defeated in the Senate after passing the Lower House.

Abortion in Chile was decriminalised under the previous leftist government in a landmark vote in Congress last year – but only in cases of rape or in medical emergencies.

Thousands of people marched in Santiago last month demanding legalised, free abortion, in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, highlighting the issue's prominence in Latin American political discourse.

"It cannot be that women are taken to jail for having an abortion. We believed in desired motherhood," Maite Orsini, of the leftist Democratic Revolution party, told reporters after presenting the bill.

She arrived in Congress sporting the green bandana that became a symbol of the abortion rights campaigners in Argentina.

A group of MPs wearing blue bandanas – the emblem of the anti-abortion lobby - said they would present a bill "to protect the life of the unborn" in the Constitution.

"This is a sad day for Chile," said conservative deputy Juan Antonio Coloma, representing the so-called "Front for the Defence of Life."

The right-wing government of President Sebastian Piñera has said an abortion law is not on its agenda.

"It is not part of the agenda, we do not identify it as a situation on which we have to focus, when there are priorities that are of greater importance to the population," said Health Minister Oscar Santelices.

Campaigners have been galvanised across Latin America after Argentine lawmakers approved a bill to decriminalise abortion, before the measure was voted down in the Senate earlier this month. Lawmakers will now have to wait a year to resubmit the legislation. 

The leftist lawmakers lodged the bill in Congress almost exactly a year after legislation championed by former socialist president Michelle Bachelet removed Chile from a small group of countries where abortion is not allowed under any circumstances.

According to data from Chile's Health Ministry, 359 abortions were carried out under the new law between September 2017 and July 16, 2018.

- AFP

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