Chile is one of the very few countries in the world where abortion is illegal under all circumstances. In a country where the lawmakers themselves are members of Ultra-Conservative sects like Opus Dei, a staunch stance against abortion is more or less expected. But with increasing cases of women dying after being mercilessly denied abortions, the phrase ‘Pro-life’ comes across as a misnomer.
Since therapeutic abortions were made illegal in 1989, Chilean women have had to migrate to neighbouring countries to get abortions done. But with more and more countries in South America choosing to follow Chile’s footsteps, they are fast running out of options. It is a well known fact that the Catholic Church is a very powerful institution in Chile, so much so that many of the public policies are built on the foundations of religion and are justified through religion. Therefore, the proponents of Christianity, quite audaciously argue that pregnancy due to rape is in conformity with the ‘Will of God’ without the slightest twinge of conscience. Although it can be argued that maternal mortality won’t necessarily come down even if abortions were made legal for selected cases, one can at least rest assured that women will have complete right over their bodies.
Statistics from developed countries indicate a direct correlation between reduced maternal mortality rates and better healthcare and education facilities for women. In this context it is worthwhile to mention that Chile’s only sex education policy till date- ‘Jocas’ was cancelled in the name of being immoral by Catholic standards. As far as pre-natal healthcare services are concerned, they lie in a state of shambles. All this has resulted in a spurt in the illegal business of clandestine abortions and cases of women self-administering abortive drugs like mifepristone.
It is true that a significant opposition has gathered in Chile against restrictions on therapeutic abortion. But the powerful vested interests have made sure that bills favouring therapeutic abortion collect dust in the archives instead of being translated into laws. So much so that even repeated requests by the UN to the Chilean government to reconsider such restrictive laws have fallen into deaf ears.
Recently the death of an Indian dentist, Savita Halappanavar has sparked off a wave of protests throughout the world against similar restrictive laws in Ireland. The onus is on the world community at large to make sure that it exerts sufficient pressure on such countries to bring about a change in their draconian laws. Desmond Tutu’s famous words, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” were never more apt.