Abortion in Chile
Therapeutic abortion was permitted by the Health Code in 1931 but abolished by the military dictatorship on September 15, 1989, arguing that due to advances in medicine it was "no longer justifiable." Before the ban, any woman whose life was in danger could ask to get an abortion, if she had the approval of two doctors.
Current laws against abortion are codified in the Penal Code articles 342 to 345 under the title "Crimes and Offences against Family Order, Public Morality and Sexual Integrity." The Penal Code punishes induced abortion, as well as those caused by a violent act against a woman. The person practicing the abortion with the consent of the woman is also punished. The penalty for seeking an abortion is 3–5 years in jail and 541 days to three-years jail time for providing an abortion. The country's constitution in article 19-1, states that "the law protects the life of those about to be born." A two-thirds majority of each chamber of the Chilean Congress is required to amend it.
Since 1990, 15 abortion-related bills have been submitted by legislators to Congress for discussion, 12 in the Chamber of Deputies and three in the Senate. About half called to either increase existing penalties or to create legal barriers to make it more difficult for abortion to be legalized. Two other bills suggested erecting monuments to the "innocent victims of abortion." Four bills have requested that abortion be allowed when the mother's life is at risk and one in the case of rape. Nine are currently in review and one has been rejected. Five others have been archived, which means they have not been discussed for two years. Two identical bills requesting the reestablishment of therapeutic abortion as it was before 1989 are currently in review in the Chamber's Medical Commission, the first submitted on January 23, 2003, and the latest on March 19, 2009.
On 31 January 2015, President Michelle Bachelet sent a draft bill to Congress to decriminalize abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (18 weeks, if the woman is under 14 years old) in the following cases: when the mother's life is at risk, when the fetus will not survive the pregnancy, and in the case of rape. In March 2016 the Chamber of Deputies passed the draft, and in July 2017 the Senate gave its approval. The bill will now be returned to the country's lower chamber to review the Senate's changes.
Concern over high maternal mortality rates resulting from illegal abortion led the Chilean government to launch a publicly funded family planning program in 1964. Deaths due to illegal abortions dropped from 118 to 24 per 100,000 live births between 1964 and 1979.
There was also a statistically significant decrease in maternal deaths due to abortion from 1990 to 2000. Experts attribute the decline in hospitalizations due to abortion during this period to the increased use of sterilization and antibiotics by illegal abortion providers, the increased availability of the abortifacient drug misoprostol, and the increased use of contraception.
A 2015 study by the Chilean epidemiologist Elard Koch has shown that the decreasing trend in maternal deaths due to abortion has continued through 2009. These results challenge the common notion that less permissive abortion laws lead to greater mortality associated with abortion. Koch states that the increases in women's education and in community support programs for women with unplanned pregnancies have contributed to the reduction of induced abortions and maternal deaths in Chile.
In the period 2000 to 2004, abortion was the third leading cause of maternal mortality in the country, accounting for 12% of all maternal deaths. While there are no accurate statistics, it is estimated that between 2000 and 2002 there were between 132,000 and 160,000 abortions in the country.
A 1997 study found that the majority of eighty women prosecuted in Santiago for having an abortion were young, single mothers, and that many were domestic workers who had moved to the city from rural areas. It also found most of the women were reported to authorities by the hospital at which they sought treatment for their complications, and had no legal representation, or were defended by inexperienced law students.
A July 2008 all-female nationwide face-to-face poll by NGO Corporación Humanas found that 79.2% of Chilean women were in favor of decriminalizing abortion when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk; 67.9% said it was urgent to legislate on the matter. According to the study, 74.0% of women believed abortion should be permitted in cases of rape, 70.1% in instances of fetal abnormality and 24% in all cases a woman decided it was appropriate.
A March 2009 nationwide telephone poll published by La Tercera newspaper found 67% were against abortion, 19% in favor and 11% in favor only in extreme cases. Regarding abortion when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk, 48% were in favor, 3% only in extreme cases and 47% were against. In cases where the baby would be born with a defect or disease that would most likely cause the baby's death, 51% were against permitting an abortion, 45% were in favor and 2% only in extreme cases. 83% were against performing an abortion on an underage girl who had unprotected sex, while 14% were in favor. 57% were in favor of abortion in the case of rape, with 39% against it.
An October 2009 opinion poll published by Universidad Diego Portales and covering 85% of urban areas of Chile found that a majority were against abortion when the pregnant woman or couple did not have the economic means to raise a baby (80%), when the pregnant woman or couple did not want to have a baby (68%), and when the fetus had a "serious defect" (51%). On the other hand, a majority were in favor of abortion when the pregnant woman's health is at risk (63%) and in cases of rape (64%).
A January 2017 opinion poll conducted by CADEM found that 57% wanted abortion to be allowed in only a few cases, while 19% wanted abortion illegal in all cases and 22% wanted it legal in all cases. A majority were in favor of abortion when the woman's health is at risk (76%), when the fetus does not have a high probability of survival (72%), and when a woman is pregnant as a result of rape (71%), while only a minority supported abortion in cases of a fetus having a physical disability (36%) and in cases of a mother not being able to afford a child (20%).
In November 2004, the United Nations (UN) committee monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) ruled that Chile should allow abortion in cases of rape and incest. In 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed concern over the country's "improperly restrictive" legislation on abortion, especially in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed concern over the country's "excessively restrictive abortion laws" in May 2009.
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