A Milestone for Women’s Rights in Chile: Government Eases Pinochet-Era Abortion Law

Today is a historic milestone for women’s rights in Chile and around the world—after months of contentious debate in Congress, the Chilean Constitutional Tribunal ruled that a bill that eases Chile’s total abortion ban is constitutional. The bill is now headed to President Michelle Bachelet—a champion of women’s rights—for signature.

Chile’s abortion ban was draconian: It applied to all circumstances including rape, incest, and when the woman’s life was in danger.

That meant that Chilean women who had an unviable pregnancy had to carry it to term. Rape or incest victims had no options. Women whose pregnancy threatened their own lives had zero say over their bodies and futures.

A relic of the Pinochet era, the ban was an outrageous, cruel, and blatant violation of human rights. Similar laws are currently on the books in several countries including El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

Even though over 70 percent of Chileans favor decriminalization, the opposition was formidable. The margins for passage in the Senate, a bicameral commission, and the Constitutional tribunal were razor thin. A well-funded, well-organized opposition fought tooth and nail against this bill every step of the way—and they have vowed to continue to challenge abortion rights.

As the CEO of International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Western Hemisphere Region, I work with hundreds of activists and service providers across Latin America and the Caribbean dedicated to challenging these dangerous laws and fighting for women’s rights. These extraordinary activists give me hope during the darkest of times.

Alongside our partners in the country, we are committed to ensuring that the law is implemented quickly and fairly, and most importantly, ensuring that abortion services are accessible to women who have limited to no access to quality healthcare due to their income, ethnicity, age or geographic location.

It won’t be easy—but today also serves as a historical reminder that organizing works. That advocacy works. That despite the odds, if we come together, if we work together, progress is possible. And I know we need that reminder now more than ever.

Of course, the stakes remain high. The challenges are real. President Trump didn’t just reinstitute the Global Gag rule on January 23; his administration expanded it to affect over 8.8 billion dollars in U.S. foreign aid. I want to be clear: women die from this policy.

We’re losing crucial funds needed to pay for preventative health services, contraception, cervical cancer screenings, and sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS. And evidence shows that Gag Rules instituted by prior U.S. administrations have not reduced the number of abortions; rather, by eliminating access to contraception, they have led to more unintended pregnancies and more unsafe abortions.

This in a region that not only faces some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world but alarming rates of gender-based violence and a lack of comprehensive sexuality education. Our partner clinics offer crucial services and often operate in openly hostile political climates. But we are undeterred.

To all the other women in the region who are serving prison sentences for abortion, of being forced into pregnancy, who feel like they have no options—you are not forgotten. We get up everyday fighting for a brighter future, and today is a reminder that a glimmer of hope shines through the darkest of nights.

Giselle Carino is the CEO of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Western Hemisphere Office (IPPF/WHR). You can follow IPPF/WHR @IPPF_WHR