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All forms of abortion in Chile are penalized, without legal exceptions. The Chilean abortion law is considered one of the most restrictive in the world.[1][2]


Legal background

Therapeutic abortion was permitted by the Health Code in 1931[1] but abolished by the military dictatorship on September 15, 1989[3], arguing that due to advances in medicine it was "no longer justifiable."[4] Before the ban, any woman whose life was in danger could ask to get an abortion, if she had the approval of two doctors.[1]

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."[5] 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. Current penal laws consider a woman's life to be subordinated to that of the fetus in gestation.[1] The country's constitution in article 19-1, states that "the law protects the life of those about to be born."[6]

Since 1990 14 abortion-related bills have been submitted by legislators to Congress for discussion; 12 in the Chamber of Deputies and two 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." Three bills have requested for abortion to be allowed when the mother's life is at risk and one in the case of rape. Eight 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 Five others have been archived, which means they have not been discussed for two years.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 for the reestablishment of therapeutic abortion, as it was before 1989, are currently in review in the Chamber's Medical Commission, the first submitted in January 23, 2003, and the latest in March 19, 2009.[7]

In November 2004, the United Nations 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.[8] The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed concern over the country's "excessively restrictive abortion laws" in May 2009.[9]

Impact on health

In the period 2000-2004 abortion was the third cause of maternal mortality in the country at 12%.[10] Thirty-five percent of all pregnancies end in abortion; this is 4.5 abortions for every 100 women aged 15 to 49.[1] While there are no accurate statistics, it is believed that between 2000 and 2002 there were between 132,000 and 160,000 abortions in the country.[11] To circumvent legal problems, some women seek an unsafe abortion and many end up injured from it, afterward necessitating hospitalization. Once hospitalized, a woman may be reported to the police and imprisoned. In order to counter this problem, the Chilean Government started supporting family planning activities in the mid-1960s. This has caused the incidence of illegal abortion and related deaths to decline: deaths due to abortion complications dropped from 118 to 24 per 100,000 live births between 1964 and 1979.[12] From 1990 to 2000, the maternal mortality rate related to unsafe abortion dropped further, contributing to a 60.3% reduction of the total maternal mortality rate during this time period.[13]

The illegality of therapeutic abortion extends to cases of tubal or ectopic pregnancy.[citation needed] Although embryos implanted in the fallopian tube cannot survive, the law requires waiting until the final stage of pregnancy before termination, risking the womans's health and raising the probability of the loss of a fallopian tube.[citation needed]

Abortion when the life of the mother is at risk, such as in cases of ectopic pregnancy and eclampsia, is widely practiced in hospitals, even though it is illegal.[14]

Abortion advocates claim that legalizing abortion leads to fewer maternal deaths but, according to research from Chile, the opposite is true. Chile made its abortion laws stricter in the 1980s, but between 1960 and 2000 the maternal death rate underwent the largest reduction of any Latin country—from 275 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 18.7 deaths.
Chile's maternal death rate is now lower than any other country in South America, according to a recent World Economic Forum report. Chile does not allow abortions if the woman's life is in danger and has rejected UN recommendations that it liberalize its abortion laws. Elard Koch, the University of Chile epidemiologist who researched maternal mortality, told the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute that he attributed the drop to education, "a breakthrough in the public health system and primary care." [15]

Profile of abortion seekers

A study focused on women and abortion analyzed court records between 1983-1984 (time of military dictatorship) and 1990-1991 (transition to democracy) in four cities in Chile. It found most women arrested and imprisoned for abortion were undereducated, low-income, between the ages of 18-29, and were culled from public hospitals after seeking medical treatment for botched illegal abortions (92% of all reports were from public hospitals). Nearly half of all women did not have a partner. Hospital conditions were markedly hostile. It's reported that when a woman entered a public hospital seeking medical attention related to abortion complications, hospital staff focused on questioning the patient. At times it was mandatory to gain a confession from her before administering the proper medical treatment. On the other hand, pregnant women with higher socioeconomic status enjoyed the benefits of private hospitals of whom none reported any of the women seeking treatment from them. When prosecuted, women of low socioeconomic status were often not provided with a defense attorney in the court system. Only 38% had legal assistance whereas 60% had no legal defense at all.[2]

Public opinion

A July 2006 MORI survey found that 26% of Chileans believed that abortion is "justified," up from 18% in 1990.[16]

A July 2008 all-female nation-wide 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 mother was at risk; 67.9% said it was urgent to legislate of 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.[11]

A March 2009 nation-wide telephone poll published by La Tercera newspaper found 67% were against "abortion," 19% in favor and 11% in favor only in extreme cases. Regarding therapeutic abortion (when the life of the mother 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.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "ABORTO EN CHILE" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  2. ^ a b The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (1998). Women behind bars. Retrieved from
  3. ^ "Código Sanitario" (in Spanish) (PDF). Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  4. ^ "Aborto terapéutico: Demanda de las mujeres" (in Spanish). Revista Punto Final. 2003-04-11. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  6. ^ "CONSTITUCION POLITICA DE LA REPUBLICA DE CHILE" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  7. ^ Chamber of Deputies
  8. ^ "Organismos internacionales insisten en despenalizar aborto terapéutico en Chile" (in Spanish). 2009-03-17. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ "MORTALIDAD MATERNA EN CHILE, 2000-2004" (in Spanish). Revista chilena de obstetricia y ginecología. 2006. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  11. ^ a b "V Encuesta Nacional “Percepciones de las mujeres sobre su situación y condiciones de vida en Chile”" (in Spanish). Corporación Humanas. July 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  12. ^ United Nations Population Division. (2002). Abortion Policies: A Global Review. Retrieved 14 July 2006.
  13. ^ Donoso Siña, Enrique. (2004). The reduction in maternal mortality in Chile, 1990–2000. Pan American Journal of Public Health, 15 (5). Retrieved March 25, 2007.
  14. ^ "Médicos pidieron "sincerar" la discusión del aborto terapéutico en Chile" (in Spanish). Radio Cooperativa. 2009-03-17. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  15. ^ ((cite
  16. ^ "Chileans Slowly Becoming More Liberal. (October 2, 2006). Angus Reid Global Monitor. Retrieved January 10, 2006.
  17. ^ "Los chilenos y el aborto" (in Spanish). Reportajes de La Tercera. 2009-03-22. p. 9. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 

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