Nearly three decades ago, shortly before giving up power, Pinochet prohibited all forms of abortion, previously authorized in case of rape or risk to the life of the mother. Now, a priority for President Michelle Bachelet, Chile's first woman president and a pediatrician by training, is lifting the strict ban on abortion. According to Agence France-Presse, Bachelet's efforts to overturn the strict prohibition, which penalizes abortions with up to five years in jail, began in 2015.
The measure, which passed with a 22-13 vote in the Senate, allows abortion in cases of rape, if the mother's life is at risk or if the fetus presents a deadly birth defect. It now awaits a ruling by the Constitutional Court at the request of the opposition. "We are satisfied. We have delivered alternatives, and safe health care options, to all women, regardless of the decisions they make," said Claudia Pascual, minister for women and gender equality.
Until now, the South American country has been part of a small group of socially conservative nations that barred abortion under all circumstances -- including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Gabon, Haiti, Malta, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Senegal. According to the report, terminating pregnancies in cases when the mother's life is endangered or the fetus is nonviable were legal in Chile for 50 years before the Pinochet-era restrictions were put in place.
Under the new law, rules surrounding abortions in cases of rape emerged as controversial. In such cases, now the victim will be able to seek an abortion legally up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy. For girls under 14, abortion is available up to 14 weeks. If a young girl is raped by her father, a judge or custodial person must give authorization for the abortion. If she is 14-19, a family member has to be informed of her wish to have an abortion.
Bachelet, after serving a first term as president, became the first chief of UN Women -- the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. She pledged to see the easing of the ban enacted before she leaves office in March 2018.
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