Chile decriminalizes abortion in three circumstances

By Teresa Vargas Valdes, Chile Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA

After a number of years of debate in the Congress, Chile has now advanced in the recognition of reproductive rights for women and girls by decriminalizing abortion in three limited circumstances. Today, women and girls in Chile can decide if they want to interrupt or advance pregnancies that put their lives at risk, when the life of the fetus is inviable and when the pregnancy has been a consequence of rape or incest, with certain limits and requirements.

The majority of the Chilean Congress supported the bill, which had been sent by the President of Chile and former UN Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet. Despite broad support and a legislative victory, the minority of the Congress that rejected the bill alleged that the law was unconstitutional and demanded declaration of unconstitutionality from the Constitutional Court.

Amnesty International Chile presented an amicus curiae in the Chilean Constitutional Court, and also participated in the public audiences presenting arguments in favor of the constitutionality of the law — emphasizing the duty of the Constitutional Court to observe international human rights law and reflecting on the consequences of continued absolute criminalization of human rights of women and girls.

The Constitutional Court heard arguments from approximately 135 organizations from civil society and representatives of the government in public hearings. They heard arguments in favor of and against the law to decriminalize abortion in select circumstances, with an array of religious, legal, political and psychological arguments, among others. The public hearings lasted for three days. Women and activists waited to hear the fate of respect for their human rights while the Court postposed the final decision for a couple days, but then finally the Constitutional Court pronounced its sentence in favor of the constitutionality of the law, reasserting the basic sexual and reproductive rights of Chilean women.

For decades, Chile has been violating international human rights in this matter. Chile routinely ignored recommendations and pronouncements of several committees and other international organs in charge of the official interpretation of pacts and treaties, demanding that local laws be brought into line with international standards regarding not only sexual and reproductive rights, but also the rights to life, health, rights, non-discrimination, against torture and to live free from violence, among others.

This victory helps move Chile closer to respecting international human rights standards. As Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International declared: “Chile has finally moved one step closer to protecting the human rights of women and girls.”

This is an important step to comply with international pacts and treaties signed and ratified by Chile, even though there is much more work to be done in order to advance women’s rights in there.

Let us celebrate this victory and recommit to ensuring that Chilean women and girls — and those everywhere — have full access to their sexual and reproductive rights!

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