Chile must take the first step to defend women’s rights

Press release
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The FIDH and its member organization in Chile, the Observatorio Ciudadano, call Chilean senators to resolutely support in today’s debate at the plenary session of the Senate of the Republic, the bill that regulates the decriminalization of abortion for three reasons, as a first step towards guaranteeing women’s rights in Chile in accordance with the recommendations and decisions issued by the United Nations and Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The lengthy debates on the bill during its Reading at the National Congress and the wording adopted in the legislative working groups, give rise to serious concerns about the actual enforcement of this law, as there were big changes and new requirements introduced that move away from the initial terms of the bill. Nevertheless, the fact that abortion will be allowed, at least in the three extreme cases considered, constitutes progress. They are: if mother’s life is at risk, if there’s letal inviability of the fetus and if the pregnancy is a result of rape.

"The lifting of the ban on abortion in these three cases is clearly preferable to the ban inherited from Pinochet’s dictatorship. However, it falls short of protecting women’s rights! Chile must provide access for all women and girls to safe legal abortions, as well as their absolute freedom of choice."

Juan Francisco Soto, Vice President of the FIDH

Furthermore, it is essential that the Parliament, as a body, sends an unequivocal and direct signal to the Chilean and International Community that it is committed to the defence of women’s rights and that it rejects the alterations made to the intial bill that was submitted by Bachelet’s government. Changes as the one brought by conservative and religious lobbies about extending the conscientious objection clause to any member of a medical team when it should only apply to medical doctors while being strictly regulated, deviates the law from its intended top priority, the fundamental need to guarantee women free access to sexual and reproductive health services.

"This bill is far from ideal but it’s time that Chile removes itself from the list of the 7 Latin American countries which totally ban abortion and that the Congress and Chilean society trace the path to guarantee that women, who make up half the population, have the rights to life, to physical and mental integrity, to non-discrimination, to substantive equality, to privacy and to the highest possible level of physical and mental health."

Elsie Monge, Vice President of the FIDH

As pointed out during the FIDH mission to Chile in January of this year, criminalizing abortion in Chile constitutes a serious breach of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, which ought to be promoted and protected by the Chilean state as it must be done with any human right. In fact, criminalization carries serious risks to the health and lives of women and girls who choose abortion, in particular, when they cannot avail themselves of the resources and the information required to get safe legal abortions. In addition, they run the risk of being reported by doctors and medical staff and of being faced with criminal prosecution which particularly undermines women who are poor, young, migrant or indigenous.

The FIDH trusts that the adoption of this bill will be supported by other measures such as Chile’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the main legal instrument related to women’s rights. Chile signed it on 1989 and still waits from ratification since 2001. The enforcement of this Protocol would allow individuals to apply directly to the CEDAW monitoring committee in case of serious or systematic violations in Chile of the obligations contained by the treaty.

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