Chile's Bachelet takes on conservatives with plan to ease abortion ban

Sat Jan 31, 2015 2:57pm EST
 
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By Anthony Esposito

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet, unveiled plans on Saturday to ease a complete ban on abortions in the socially conservative South American country.

In a televised address, leftist Bachelet said she was sending Congress a draft bill that would permit abortion when a mother's life is at risk, a fetus will not survive the pregnancy, or in the case of rape.

The outright ban on terminations was put in place during the final days of Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship. A number of attempts since then to legalize abortion have been blocked by right-wing legislators.

"I know this is a sensitive issue," said Bachelet, a trained pediatrician. "There isn't always agreement on issues that relate to each person's conscience."

Following her signature on the draft bill, the document now goes to Congress. Campaigners supporting Bachelet's proposal say the ban on terminations forces many women to endure dangerous back-street abortions in often-unsafe conditions.

Estimates on how many illegal abortions are carried out in Chile range from 15,000 to 160,000 per year.

In a country where the Catholic church retains a strong influence, anti-abortion activists remain a powerful lobby group.

"It astounds me that today we're putting the right to liberty before the right to life," said Senator Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe of the right-wing UDI party.   Continued...

 
Chile's President Michelle Bachelet speaks at a news conference after her welcoming ceremony in the presidential palace in Guatemala City, January 30, 2015. REUTERS/Josue Decavele