• Thursday, August 21, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    CHILE: Therapeutic Abortion – Hot Election Issue

    By Daniela Estrada
    SANTIAGO, Apr 2 (IPS) The debate on the decriminalisation of therapeutic
    abortion has been revived ahead of the December presidential elections in
    Chile, one of the few countries in the world where abortion is illegal
    even under extreme circumstances, such as risk to the mother's life or
    a severely deformed foetus.

    Nevertheless, tens of thousands of Chilean women resort to illegal
    abortions every year. A number of reasons lie behind each woman's
    decision to terminate a pregnancy, as several women who have had abortions
    described to IPS.

    One of them, Paz, had just separated from her husband when she found out
    she was pregnant three years ago.

    "He was the absolute worst, I didn't want to have his
    child," said the 32-year-old victim of domestic abuse, who asked that
    her real name not be used.

    Isabel (not her real name)
    had an abortion a decade ago, when she was 22. "I was in my fourth
    year at the university, and had been with my boyfriend for two years. When
    I found out I was pregnant, we broke up, because he was not a source of
    support in the process," she told IPS.

    "I have never
    wanted to have children, and I couldn't imagine my life with the
    responsibility of raising one," said the professional, who paid 800
    dollars to terminate her pregnancy.

    "I had at least one more
    year of school left, and I didn't want my mother or anyone else to be
    stuck raising a baby. Besides, I was using birth control, so I felt like
    it wasn't my fault, it was just an accident," she
    added.

    When she was nearly eight weeks pregnant, she went to a house
    outside the city "that had been equipped for the
    purpose."

    "They picked me up in a car at an agreed-on
    spot. In the car were the two women who carried out the procedure, the
    'specialist' and her assistant, as well as a third person who was
    going to have an abortion, like me. We talked along the way. She told me
    not to be scared, that she was going for the second time, because she
    already had three kids and couldn't support another one," she
    said.

    She paid more than 950 dollars for a vacuum aspiration abortion at an
    illegal clinic when she was seven weeks pregnant.

    "I have never felt guilty about it, although I do think it is always
    a tough decision, even if you are really sure," she said.

    Now happily eight months pregnant with her new partner, she stressed that
    "I always meant to become a mother."

    "I know dozens of cases where having an abortion has been a traumatic
    experience because economic difficulties, for example, have led women to
    try less safe methods," said Paz. "I had support, money,
    everything I needed to do it safely. Other women aren't that
    fortunate."

    No one in her family knows she had an abortion. "Nor does my current
    partner, and I don't think he needs to know. My ex-husband never found
    out either; for me his opinion was irrelevant."

    Therapeutic abortion was legal in Chile from 1931 to 1989, when it was
    banned by the government of late dictator General Augusto Pinochet
    (1973-1990).

    The ban remains in place 19 years after the return to democracy, and
    abortion is punishable by three to five years in prison for the woman who
    undergoes it and by slightly shorter sentences for the medical
    professionals or others who perform the procedure.

    Abortion is illegal under all circumstances in only a few countries:
    Chile, El Salvador, Malta, Nicaragua and the Philippines.

    The reinstatement of therapeutic abortion, a demand that has been voiced
    constantly by women's organisations since the restoration of
    democracy, has so far not made it onto the agenda of the centre-left
    Coalition for Democracy governments that have ruled Chile since 1990.

    The main cause of what women's rights activists call the failure to
    pay a debt to democracy for Chilean women is the staunch opposition by the
    Christian Democracy Party. Not even socialist President Michelle Bachelet
    has managed to convince that co-governing party to take a more flexible
    position.

    That is why women's groups have reacted warily to the recent statement
    by former president Eduardo Frei (1994-2000) – who hopes to be
    nominated by his party as a presidential candidate – on the need to
    "open the debate" on the question of abortion.

    A group of organisations immediately demanded that abortion not be used as
    an election issue.

    Influenced by the leadership of the Catholic Church, which condemns
    abortion under any circumstances, the right-wing opposition alliance has
    already slammed the door on any possible discussion of the issue.

    In the last 19 years, none of the draft laws in favour of the partial
    decriminalisation of abortion has made any headway in parliament. The
    latest initiative was blocked in 2007.

    There are only rough estimates on the number of abortions practiced in
    this country of just over 16 million people. The Health Ministry referred
    IPS to a study by researcher M

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