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Chile moves towards decriminalizing elective abortion

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Chile's lower house of Congress on Tuesday approved a bill to decriminalize abortion within 14 weeks of pregnancy, a major step towards legalization of a procedure still only allowed in a handful of Latin American countries.

Demonstrators hold a green flag during a march celebrating after the lower house took a step toward decriminalizing abortion, on the Global Day of Action for Legal and Safe Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile, on September 28, 2021. – In a historic initiative due to be voted on in the Senate, the lower house of Chile approved a bill to decriminalize abortion up to 14 weeks of gestation. Pablo Vera / AFP

The proposal has yet to be approved by ultra-conservative Chile's upper house, or Senate.

On Tuesday — International Safe Abortion Day — lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies gave the green light with 75 votes in favor, 68 against, and two abstentions, according to the congressional Twitter account.

The bill, submitted in 2018 by opposition lawmakers, seeks to change the existing law, which allows elective abortion only in three scenarios: when there is a threat to the life of the pregnant woman, if the fetus is unviable, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape.

These legal abortions represent only about three percent of the thousands of clandestine terminations taking place in the country, according to activists.

Until 2017, Chile maintained an outright ban on the procedure still denied most women in Latin America.

"This is for all the women… who have been persecuted and criminalized," tweeted Communist lawmaker Camila Vallejo, one of the authors of the bill.

"Down with the patriarchy which will fall, will fall!" she added. "Up with feminism, which will win, will win!"

In Latin American abortion is legal only in Uruguay, Cuba, Argentina — since January — and Guyana, as well as in Mexico City and three Mexican states.

It is banned in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and most other countries allow it only for medical reasons or in case of rape.

Hundreds of Salvadoran women demonstrated outside Congress Tuesday, carrying signs bearing slogans such as, "We all have the right to decide about our lives," and a large banner that read: "To decide is my right, legal abortion now."

A committee of the protesters presented a proposal to Congress for legalizing abortion in certain cases, such as when the pregnancy puts the woman's life at risk, if the fetus is unlikely to survive after birth or if the pregnancy "is the result of sexual violence."

The proposal comes after El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele withdrew a constitutional reform in mid-September, drafted by his own government, that would have opened the door to legalize therapeutic — or medically necessary — abortions.


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