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Chilean senate takes major step towards legalizing abortion

Activists (back) in favor of abortion argue with an activist (in red) who is against it, during demos in Santiago, in 2016 © AFP/File / MARTIN BERNETTI

CHILE, Jul 19 – Chile’s senate early Wednesday took a major step towards legalizing abortion in the socially conservative country by agreeing to decriminalize the procedure in three specific cases.

The measure, supported by President Michelle Bachelet, allows abortion in cases of rape, if the mother’s life is at risk, or if the fetus presents a deadly birth defect.

After three hours of tense debate and more than two years in the making, the senators approved the proposal by voting separately on each measure.

Abortion of any type has been strictly outlawed in Chile since the final days of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in 1989, and under current law is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Prior to that, for more than 50 years, Chile permitted abortion if the mother’s life was in danger or if the fetus was not viable.

The abortion measures still need approval by the Chamber of Deputies to be signed into law by Bachelet, a physician who returned to office in March 2014 after serving as Chile’s first woman president from 2006 to 2010.

Lawmakers from Bachelet’s Socialist party have tried in the past to introduce abortion bills, but they have always been voted down by the legislature.

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