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LATIN AMERICA | 26-07-2018 13:26

Thousands march in Chile demanding abortion law overhaul

Adopting the green handkerchiefs of pro-abortion campaigners in Argentina, thousands of people took part in a march in the Chilean capital on Wednesday demanding the reform of laws that allow abortion only in cases of rape or reasons of health.

Thousands of people took part in a march in Santiago on Wednesday night to demand the reform of legislation that allows abortion only in cases of rape or reasons of health.

On a cold night in the Chilean capital, long lines of people carrying banners and signs marched along Avenida Alameda, Santiago's main thoroughfare, demanding women be given the right and freedom to decide if they want to have an abortion. Protesters held up banners and placards and chanted to the beat of drums as they marched, with many wearing the green handkerchiefs adopted by pro-abortion campaigners in this country, Argentina. Demonstrators in Chile on Wednesday were demanding not just that abortion be entirely legalised but also that it be free.

"Abortion is a basic human right. This march is necessary to achieve what we've always wanted," Isidora, a 19-year-old student, told reporters from AFP news agency. "It gives us greater strength on the road to freedom."

Other demonstrations in favour of reform also took place in other cities across Chile Wednesday night.

Campaigners have been galvanised across Latin America, with momentum building after lawmakers in Argentina's lower house Chamber of Deputies recently voted to approve a bill that would decriminalise abortion. Argentina's upper house, the Senate, began debating the issue earlier this month, with a final debate and vote due to take place on August 8. However, the bill has faced fierce opposition from the influential Catholic Church. The outcome is likely to be close.

In Chile, former military dictator general Augusto Pinochet criminalised abortion in all its forms in 1989 and that law remained in place until 2017, with the approval of a bill proposed by then-president Michelle Bachelet that decriminalised abortion in  three cases: rape, a risk to the mother's life and disability. Campaigners, however, say that isn't enough.

"Those three cases account for only three percent of abortions in Chile and the other 97 percent of women do so secretly and at high risk, and we cannot allow that to happen," said Macarena Castañeda, spokeswoman for a feminist movement that attended the march.

Abortion remains mostly illegal in Latin America. Only in Uruguay and Cuba is it entirely legal, as well as in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. Most countries follow the same rules as Chile, permitting it in only the three cases.

In El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – traditionally Catholic countries but where Protestantism and atheism are on the rise – abortion remains completely banned.

"Argentina opened the debate, now it's a public health issue," said a 29-year-old historian who gave her name as Francisca.

"It is important that we give a sign, as a continent, that women are united," said Alejandra Valle, a fellow demonstrator. "That is why we followed our Argentine compañeras, who filled the streets with green and showed the country that they are so many and that they want to be heard."

- TIMES/AFP

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