Chile may indeed become in a few weeks the first to engrave this right in constitutional stone. In any case, this right to abortion is included in the new fundamental law, the new Constitution which has just been drafted and will be submitted to a referendum in Chile on September 4th. It is article 16 of the text. It provides that the State will be “the guarantor of sexual and reproductive rights without discrimination” and will ensure the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy, for, I quote, “all women and persons capable of bearing children”.
The article does not even provide for a time limit for abortion: the setting of this maximum time limit will be left to the discretion of the law. Feminist associations, very mobilized in the country, led an incessant campaign last spring to obtain the drafting of this article 16. The Constituent Assembly responsible for drafting this new text is totally equal, men and women. The new fundamental law is intended to succeed the old Constitution dating from the time of the Pinochet dictatorship.
It is a revolution for Chile, because it is a country where religion is very present. The Catholic Church remains powerful in this country of 19 million inhabitants, as in much of Latin America. Moreover, abortion is only fully legalized in 4 Latin American countries: Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay and Guyana. It is partially decriminalized in Colombia and Mexico. Conversely, it remains completely banned in many countries, especially in Central America. In Chile, the weight of the Church and ultra-conservative groups like Opus Dei has long prevented any development, even after the end of the dictatorship. Divorce was not authorized until 2004 and abortion remained prohibited in all cases until 2017. Even today, it is only authorized in cases of rape or danger to life. life of the mother or the fetus. Moreover, the country has only a thousand legal abortions per year, for nearly 70,000 clandestine abortions. But the evolution of society has been rapid in recent years: religious practice is in decline, the Church has been shaken by multiple pedophilia scandals. And now, according to a poll last fall, 73% of Chileans are in favor of abortion.
It is still necessary that this new Constitution, with its article 16, be adopted and it is not acquired. The Chileans are overwhelmingly in favor of a new Constitution. But the methods of the Constituent Assembly are not unanimous. It is therefore not certain that the “yes” will win in the referendum on 4th September next. For the moment, it is even the No which is in the lead in the opinion polls. In addition, as always in the case of a referendum, some voters will be tempted to take advantage of the opportunity to send another message, in this case to express their opposition to the new Chilean president, the young Gabriel Boric. Finally, of course, the decision of the American Supreme Court has reinvigorated Chilean conservative circles and anti-abortion movements. They have two months ahead of them to seek to block this article 16 by calling for a No vote.