Chile court clears way to ease abortion ban

Santiago (AFP) –


Chile's Constitutional Court Monday approved a measure to ease the country's strict abortion ban by decriminalizing the procedure in certain cases.

The bill will allow abortion in cases of rape, threat to the mother's life or deadly birth defects.

Judges voted by six to four to dismiss challenges brought by conservative parties opposed to the reform, the court's secretary-general Rodrigo Pica told a news conference.

The bill can now be signed into law by socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who launched the reform in 2015.

The reproductive rights group MILES hailed it as a "historic" decision.

"Today we women are conquering new ground for dignity, freedom, independence and equality," it said in a statement.

The bill drew fierce resistance from conservatives. They said that for the fetus it violates the right to life enshrined in the constitution.

A recent survey of 705 people by polling firm Cadem indicated that 70 percent of Chileans support legalized abortion under those three conditions. The result reflected previous surveys on the issue.

Abortion under any circumstances has been strictly outlawed in Chile since 1989, during the final days of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

Under current law abortion is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Prior to that, for more than 50 years, Chile permitted abortion if the mother's life was in danger or if the fetus was not viable.

A handful of countries in Latin America still have total bans on abortion, notably El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The approval comes ahead of Chile's November presidential elections in which Bachelet will not run.

She said she will make the measure's approval and full implementation a priority before she leaves office in March 2018.

A pediatrician by profession, Bachelet returned to office in March 2014 after serving as Chile's first woman president from 2006 to 2010.

She was a senior United Nations official working on female empowerment issues after her first term in office.