The legalization of abortion in Chile- which bans all abortion and has the lowest maternal mortality rate in Latin America-was stopped by one vote. The stunning pro-life victory surprised observers, except those knelling in prayer and praying for victory.
The win took place in the 120 member Chamber of Deputies following action in the Senate approving the legislation to amend Chilean law to allow abortion for three exceptions: a risk to the life of the mother, in cases of rape or incest, or in case of a negative prenatal diagnosis. The law would also create a judicial bypass for minors and limit the conscience rights of health workers.
Deputies had approved the legislation a year ago and pro-abortion activists were confident of approval of the changes made by the Senate. However, the ruling government of President Michele Bachelet and her center-left Nueva Mayoria (New Majority) coalition, along with collaborating pro-abortion NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations], failed to ensure that enough supporters of the pro-abortion measure were present for the vote.
The defeat was determined by the decision of Congressman Marcelo Chavez of the Democratic Christian party, a member of the ruling coalition, to abstain from the vote explaining to local news outlets that he “had not been able to reach a decision” on the legislation. His abstention denied the pro-abortion faction the 67 votes needed for passage; a number of lawmakers belonging to Bachelet’s coalition were on vacation at the time of the vote.
The measure now goes to a bicameral committee for review before reintroduction which may take place after a change in Chile’s Constitutional Court scheduled for late August. The change is expected to result in a more conservative Court.
Pro-life advocates had announced plans to appeal any legislative changes to Chile’s law on abortion to the Constitutional Court. The Chilean constitution protects the unborn child stating in Article 19 that the Constitution guarantees to all persons the right to life and to the physical and psychological integrity of the individual and states: “The law protects the life of those about to be born.”
IPPF Western Hemisphere was actively engaged in the lobby effort stating, “IPPF/WHR worked closely with MILES Chile and APROFA-as well as a broader coalition of organizations dedicated to promoting abortion rights-on a multi-faceted advocacy strategy aimed at educating lawmakers, health authorities, teachers and parents and building long-term public support for the decriminalization of abortion.”
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The Director of Miles Chile blamed the defeat on Bachelet’s government: “Everyone knows that some deputies and senators will always be absent for any vote, but this could and should have been taken into account by the ruling coalition and this outcome prevented. It is well known, they said, that when it comes to dealing with a draft law, its passage should never be taken for granted until it actually becomes law.”
She announced that the NGO will be watching what happens in the Constitutional Court because “we do not rule out going to that Court ourselves with our own demands.”