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In Chile, A Plea For Legalizing Abortion - Now

Chile is the only country in South America where abortion is completely banned, even in cases of rape and when a mother's life is in danger. It's time to change that.

Pro-choice protest in front of a hospital in Chile
Pro-choice protest in front of a hospital in Chile

- Editorial -

SANTIAGO - Chilean president Sebastián Piñera made a rather inopportune comment when he referred to the case of an 11-year old girl who became pregnant after being raped repeatedly by her stepfather over a period of two years.

The case has sparked a passionate debate about abortion, which is currently illegal in Chile in all circumstances, including pregnancies caused by rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. The girl could have had an illegal abortion — thousands of women do each year, the majority not performed by experts or in sanitary conditions — but she didn’t.

Instead, accompanied by her grandmother, she went to the police to report her stepfather. When the news was made public, she said that she was happy to be having her baby and that “it will be like holding a doll in my arms.”

Piñera made reference to the case the next day, saying with deplorable lightness that the 11-year-old girl’s decision and statement had shown “depth and maturity.”

It is difficult to believe that a child so young, repeatedly raped by her mother’s boyfriend, could make decisions with depth and maturity. Difficult to believe and psychologically incorrect. There is no school of thought in modern psychology that supports a statement like that. On the contrary, evidence shows that when faced with a traumatic situation at that age, human beings don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to understand with any clarity or depth what is happening to them.

With his comments on the case, Piñera chose to align himself with the current legislation in Chile, the position of the Catholic Church and the opinion of the political parties that brought him to power. But the Chilean people don’t oppose abortion in all cases.

Chileans support abortion in some circumstances

In 2009, the Diego Portales University in Santiago conducted an opinion survey that covered 85% of the country's urban areas. It showed that 63% of Chileans support the legalization of abortion when the mother’s life is in danger, and 64% of Chileans are pro-choice when the pregnancy is the result of rape.

The survey results also revealed that 80% of Chileans do not support abortion if lack of financial resources is the reason given for the termination. Likewise, 68% are against abortion when it is based solely on the mother’s request, and a slight majority (51%) oppose abortion when the fetus has a genetic defect.

Chilean legislators should consider the well-being of women and listen to the opinion of the Chilean people — and legalize abortion in cases of rape and danger to the mother’s life. So should Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. These countries share with Chile the dubious honor of having the most restrictive anti-abortion laws both in Latin America and globally.

Chile is the only country in South America where abortion is completely banned. It is also the only country that has moved against the trend in recent decades, getting more conservative with time. Abortion for medical reasons and in cases of rape was legal in Chile until 1989, the final year of Augusto Pinochet’s military government, when the outgoing regime banned abortion completely. Of course, the Catholic Church and the most conservative sectors of the political right supported the draconian measure.

But the law needs to be reversed. The subject of legalizing abortion at the request of the mother should be deliberated, not simply disregarded. Each society must establish legislation and regulations, deciding exactly when, during the nine months of gestation, a fetus becomes a person. But in cases of rape and danger to the mother’s life, there should be no debate. Abortion should be legal, safe and infrequent.

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