The Chilean abortion rights movement faces an uphill battle | News on women’s rights

Santiago, Chile – Siomara Molina stands on the steps of the Chilean National Library on a busy street in the heart of the Chilean capital.

Waving his fists in the air and wearing green scarves, symbols of the Latin American movement for the right to abortion, Molina and the dozens of women around him chant: “Abortion yes, abortion no, it’s my decision “.

Abortion is illegal in Chile, a traditionally Catholic country, except in three limited circumstances: non-viable pregnancies, rape, or health risks to the mother.

And a years-long push by rights advocates to loosen those restrictions suffered a blow last year when Chileans rejected a new draft constitution that would have enshrined reproductive health and bodily autonomy as basic rights.

But despite the setback, as around 400,000 women gathered to mark International Women’s Day in Santiago and other cities this week, access to safe, free and legal abortion remains one of the main demands of the Chilean feminist movement.

“The current framework is one of the most restrictive in the world. It doesn’t empower women to make decisions,” said Molina, who is part of Chile’s largest feminist collective, Coordinadora Feminista 8M, which campaigns for a myriad of gender equality causes.

“There is an urgent need to break social stigma, that we create actions that lead to dialogue and conversations,” she told Al Jazeera, affirming her belief in the power of protest. “The street belongs to us and we will continue to demonstrate.”

Protesters' feet dangle from the edge of a structure during a rally in Chile in support of abortion rights
Demonstrators in Chile gather to protest in favor of the right to abortion, among others, on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2023 [Charis McGowan/Al Jazeera]

The Pinochet legacy

This year is particularly significant in the fight for abortion rights in Chile, as 2023 marks 50 years since General Augusto Pinochet staged a bloody coup and seized power. During his 17-year reign, Pinochet imposed conservative and Catholic values ​​on the country, and in 1989, a year before the end of his rule, he banned abortion in all circumstances.

“The last thing Pinochet did was ban abortion, and since then there has been a chain of violations against women and girls who cannot make decisions. [over their own bodies]”, Molina said. “We tried to change the framework, but we live in a country shaped by dictatorship.

Yet over the past three years, Chileans have taken significant steps to free themselves from the late dictator’s lasting imprint on the country.

Triggered by the rising cost of living, Chile was rocked by months of unrest in 2019, when Pinochet’s enduring 1980 constitution was singled out as the root cause of a lack of social protection and gaping inequalities. . Social mobilizations pressured politicians to hold a referendum to rewrite the constitution in 2020, which nearly 80% of Chileans approved.

The first draft of the new text was drafted by 154 popularly elected representatives, who were largely independents representing social and environmental movements, including members of the Coordinadora Feminista 8M.

The result was a highly progressive draft constitution that sought to enshrine equality and a range of human rights, but which critics dismissed as overambitious and complex. Consequently, the first draft was largely unpopular: 62% of voters rejected it in a general referendum in 2022.

“The country’s women have lost a huge opportunity,” said 19-year-old student Antonia, who was among thousands of protesters demanding abortion rights at the Women’s Day march in Santiago on Wednesday, and did not give his last name to Al Jazeera.

“It may not have been perfect, but it was a step in the right direction,” she said of last year’s draft constitution. She said she knows many people who have had home abortions using black market pills.

Between 2017, when the Three Abortion Exceptions Law was passed, until January 2022, only 2,313 legal abortions were officially registered in Chile, well below expectations. Reproductive rights advocates say people seeking abortions, even if their cases fall under all three permitted circumstances, continue to rely on underground networks due to stigma and judgment from medical professionals.

“The situation is complicated, expensive and people need support. Legal abortion is a real necessity,” Antonia said.

conservative parliament

Chile is currently in the process of drafting a second constitutional proposal. However, this time political parties are guiding the process and the outcome is expected to be more moderate, meaning reproductive rights could be left out.

For Molina and her peers, this is a worrying development: “There is a sense of hopelessness,” she said. “The 2022 draft opened a door [for us] by representation. NOW [the process] takes place behind closed doors. »

So while Argentina and Colombia have passed laws to legalize abortion in recent years, the scenario in Chile remains uncertain. Although a pro-abortion government is in power, parliament remains largely conservative.

In November 2021, MPs rejected a motion to decriminalize any abortion performed up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, with 62 MPs in favor and 65 against.

Chile’s Minister for Women, Antonia Orellana, admitted that the failure of the rejected constitution caused setbacks to the promise of the administration of leftist President Gabriel Boric to legalize abortion. Speaking to CNN, she said the government intended to introduce a new motion, “but probably not this year.”

Meanwhile, a 2022 IPSOS study found that 61% of Chileans believe abortion should be legal within the first six weeks of pregnancy, although the number fell to 36% at the 14-week threshold.

“It will be difficult to pass [pro-abortion laws]said Lieta Vivaldi, a lawyer and researcher specializing in sexual and reproductive rights at the Center for Applied Ethics of the Faculty of Philosophy and Human Sciences of the University of Chile.

She told Al Jazeera that while the three-circumstances law is “completely inadequate”, it has also not been properly applied by health workers due to a lack of proper training.

Protesters hold signs during a seated rally at the edge of a building
Abortion rights advocates suffered a setback last year when Chilean voters overturned a draft constitution that would have enshrined reproductive rights [Charis McGowan/Al Jazeera]

Stigma continues to be prevalent among medical workers, who reserve the right to be “conscientious objectors” and refuse to perform abortions, even in the three permitted circumstances, based on their personal beliefs. A survey of 57 public hospitals last year found that up to 49% of workers surveyed would exercise this right.

Vivaldi added that there was not enough information available to the public about abortion. Against this backdrop, she said Women’s Day protests are “more important than ever” to de-stigmatize the procedure.

“We have to walk in our green scarves because we’ve all had abortions, or we know someone who’s had an abortion,” she said. “It is a reality in Chile. We are here and we have to keep fighting.

#Chilean #abortion #rights #movement #faces #uphill #battle #News #womens #rights