Online Program

Reproductive rights in Chile: An analysis of abortion legislation in one of the world's most restrictive legal contexts

Monday, November 4, 2013

Kelsey Holt, MA, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Chile is one of only four countries globally where induced abortion is not permitted by law for any reason. Recent momentum in several South American countries could inspire liberalization of abortion laws in Chile. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, understanding of factors influencing abortion legislation in Chile is crucial. I systematically reviewed peer-reviewed publications, popular literature, human rights statements, and grey literature identified through English- and Spanish-language searches and conversations with stakeholders during a month-long visit to Chile in 2013. The review revealed various factors, including the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship that ended legality of therapeutic abortion, influence of the Catholic Church, constitutional rights afforded at conception, and lack of discussion of abortion in public and professional spheres. Maternal mortality from unsafe abortion is estimated at 1.2/100,000 live births though data are scarce given the illegality of the procedure. Discordance between law and practice exists: abortion is performed by doctors when the pregnancy threatens the pregnant woman's life, though protocols do not exist and doctors may fear punishment. Maternal deaths did not increase after therapeutic abortion was outlawed in 1989. Potential annual demand for therapeutic abortions in cases of life endangerment and fetal unviability is estimated at 300. Public opinion studies show majority support for legal abortion in cases of life/health endangerment, fetal unviability, and rape. United Nations human rights committees have called on Chile to modify its extreme abortion law. This analysis of available public health and socio-political information reveals various potential arguments for legal change.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines

Learning Objectives:
Describe available information on abortion and abortion law in Chile, one of the four countries in the world where abortion is not permitted even to save the pregnant woman’s life. Identify potential public health, human rights, and public opinion arguments for liberalization of abortion law in Chile.

Keyword(s): Abortion, Law

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have experience designing, implementing, and overseeing social science research related to reproductive health in non-profit settings. Specifically I have subject matter expertise related to abortion and maternal mortality. I was in Chile in January of this year taking a Harvard School of Public Health class on the Chilean health system and had the opportunity to explore abortion legislation while there.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.