The Right to Abortion in Chile Isn’t Forged in Stone

The right to interrupt a pregnancy for three possible reasons. Photo: El Mostrador

By Paulina Ibarra (El Mostrador)

HAVANA TIMES – September 23, 2017 is a historic date for women’s rights in Chile. That’s the date that the Law entered into effect, establishing the right to interrupt a pregnancy for three possible reasons: 1 – The pregnancy risks the mother’s life; 2- The pregnancy was the result of rape or incest; or 3- The fetus has malformations that make its survival inviable. That law put an end to nearly three decades of blanket prohibition. Although therapeutic abortions had existed in Chile since 1931, that right was arbitrarily eliminated in 1989, during the final days of the civil-military dictatorship. Hence, the advance represented by the new law was a great triumph for feminist movements.

However, I must point out that before this law was proclaimed, thousands of women went out onto the streets to protest and demand more rights. There were successions of public marches and demonstrations. Other marches were held to celebrate when our National Congress approved the law, and the public celebrations were no less numerous when the Constitutional Ruling was announced, giving the green light to the enactment and application of the new norms in our country.

The latest triumph in this constant struggle the pro women’s rights groups have waged came a few weeks ago, when the full session of the Constitutional Convention, – charged with drafting our new Constitution – established the right to abortion, this time without medical cause, subject only to the procedural norms that a special law will establish. If this Constitutional text is approved, after a time there’ll be no restrictions on exercising that right, except the woman’s own will to interrupt the pregnancy.

Up to here, everything is fine and in line with the political and social debates that have already taken place in many modern democracies. We’ve finally scratched our name off the ignominious and tiny list of countries that prohibit the interruption of pregnancy. Nonetheless, the phantom of conservatism is still out there. We’re seeing it in the United States – the so-called country of freedom and opportunities – where there’ve been heated discussions after the draft of a Supreme Court ruling, written by a conservative justice from that country, was leaked.

In this document, first published electronically, the US Supreme Court calls into question the resolution of that same tribunal 50 years ago, in the case of Roe vs. Wade. That decision declared abortion legal, and ruled that federal and state laws couldn’t restrict that right, except in the case of advanced pregnancies (3rd trimester). It also established some conditions (hygienic for example) in cases of second trimester pregnancies. However, it freed the interruption of early (first trimester) pregnancies from all prohibitions.

The current draft revision of that historic ruling has raised alarm among feminist groups; even as conservative groups are celebrating the possibility of new restrictions on the interruption of pregnancy.  These groups estimate that if the final Supreme Court ruling reflects the tendencies of the draft document, nearly half of US states could pass new laws restricting access to abortions – just as things were five decades ago.

I put this topic on the table because Chile isn’t immune to the possibility of such a phenomenon occurring. Women’s rights here have been conquered little by little, with few successes and many failures. The foundations of these victories are still weak, so that it wouldn’t be unusual that, following the United States example, anti-abortion groups in our country feel emboldened to cast a new conservative and patronizing look at our society.

In other words, the 2017 law we call IVE, allowing abortion for three reasons, doesn’t have stone pillars, nor is it immovable. It must still navigate shifting sands where it’s not yet a full right, especially given that there’s still a clause of conscience that allows professionals and medical centers to refuse to comply with the law, even if the mother’s life is at risk.

There’s hope that the Constitution could enshrine that right. That would allow a stronger foundation for a woman’s power to decide about her own body, limited only – as I mentioned earlier – by her own will. We must hold strongly to that position and not allow a return to the caveman age, as may now be occurring in the United States.

Read more from Chile here on Havana Times