Child’s rape revives Chile abortion debate


In Chile, the case of a young girl who became pregnant after being raped by her mother’s partner has set off a debate over abortion in the socially conservative Latin American country.


The case of an 11-year-old Chilean girl who became pregnant after being raped by her mother’s partner has brought back a national conversation about abortion in one of Latin America’s most socially conservative countries.

State television reported on Friday that the girl, who is now 14 weeks pregnant, was raped several times over the last two years. Doctors, meanwhile, say the girl’s life and that of the fetus are at high risk.

But in Chile, ending the pregnancy is not an option.

In the wake of the news, many Chileans have taken to social media to voice their outrage. A campaign for the legalisation of abortion in cases of rape or health risks for the mother was also launched online.

The police arrested the partner of the victim’s mother in the southern city of Puerto Montt after the girl’s grandmother contacted them.

He confessed to having abused the fifth grader.

One of the world’s most restrictive abortion policies

Chile’s history with abortion is a rocky one: the procedure was allowed for medical reasons from 1931 until 1989, when it was banned by General Augusto Pinochet.

The current president, conservative Sebastian Pinera, is against reversing or loosening the prohibition, one of the most restrictive in the world.

In one case in 2008, a 22-year-old Chilean woman, Karen Espindola, was refused an abortion after learning in the twelfth week of her pregnancy that her fetus had a condition called holoprosencephaly – meaning that it had a single-lobed brain – and would likely die before or shortly after being born.

But even after appealing to the president and becoming the centre of a national debate over abortion, Espindola was forced to give birth to the child, who died two years later.

Today, a woman who has an abortion in Chile can face a prison sentence of 5 to 10 years, while doctors who perform abortions there can face up to 15 years.

Slowly emerging from Pinochet-era conservatism

Despite increasingly vocal Chilean pro-choice advocates, as well as progressive movements revolving around gay rights, environmentalism, and education reform, conservatives in the country still staunchly support a total ban on abortions.

In 2012, the Senate rejected three bills that would have permitted the procedure in certain cases – in the event of rape, or if two doctors declared a pregnancy a threat to the mother’s life, for example.

Other majority-Catholic Latin American countries, like Uruguay, Guyana and Cuba (in addition to Mexico City), have legalised abortions for any reason in the first trimester.

Former (and possible future) President Michele Bachelet.
Former (and possible future) President Michele Bachelet.

Though Chile had a left-leaning female president, Michele Bachelet, in office from 2006 to 2010, the country has struggled to emerge from the social conservatism that characterised the Pinochet dictatorship.

Chile was one of the last countries in the world to legalise divorce, in 2004.

And it was only in 2012, following seven years of legislative wrangling, that an anti-discrimination law – qualifying certain types of attacks as hate crimes – was passed by Congress after a gay man was beaten to death by attackers who carved swastikas onto his skin.

Could Bachelet change things?

Upcoming presidential elections this autumn could see Chile’s social policies shift to the left if Bachelet, currently considered the frontrunner, returns to office.

Bachelet handlily won the centre-left coalition’s primary on June 30, garnering roughly 73% of votes.

Having spent the past few years as head of UN Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women), the former president is a proponent of legalising abortion in the case of rape or any health risk for mother or child.

Her opponent, former economy minister and Pinochet ally Pablo Longueira, is against both abortion and the morning-after pill.

The election is to take place on November 17, with a second round of ballot casting to be held in mid-December if the frontrunner fails to win more than 50% of the votes.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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