Grounds on which abortion is permitted
To save the life of the woman No*
To preserve physical health No
To preserve mental health No
Rape or incest No
Foetal impairment No
Economic or social reasons No
Available on request No
*Abortion law in Chile has been amended to remove all indications for the legal performance of abortions; however, it is a matter of dispute whether a defense of necessity might be allowed to justify an abortion performed to save the life of the woman.
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CONTEXT
Government view of fertility level: No official position
Government intervention concerning fertility level: No intervention
Government policy on contraceptive use: Direct support provided
Percentage of currently married women using
modern contraception: ..
Total fertility rate (1995-2000): 2.4
Age-specific fertility rate (per 1,000 women aged 15-19, 1995-2000): 49
Government has expressed particular concern about:
Morbidity and mortality resulting from induced abortion ..
Complications of childbearing and childbirth Yes
Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births; 1990):
South America 200
Female life expectancy at birth (1995-2000): 78
Abortion in Chile is governed by the Chilean Penal Code (12 November 1874, sections 342-345). Although the Code prohibits all abortions that are performed with malice (maliciosamente), historically it was understood that an abortion could be performed to save the life of the pregnant woman. Moreover, the Health Code (Decree No. 725 of 11 December 1967, section 119) expressly permitted a therapeutic abortion to save the life of the woman. The performing physician was required to obtain the written consent of two physicians.
On 15 September 1989, however, the Government of Chile amended section 119 of the Health Code to provide that “No action may be executed that has as its goal the inducement of abortion” (Law No. 18,826). The justification provided for the new restrictions was that, given the advances in modern medicine, an abortion was no longer needed to save the life of a pregnant woman. Owing to this amendment, it is generally, although not unanimously, believed that no abortions can now be legally performed in Chile.
Under the Penal Code, anyone who performs an abortion with the woman’s consent is subject to the normal length of short-term imprisonment. If the abortion is performed without the woman’s consent, the penalty is the maximum length of short-term imprisonment. A woman inducing her own abortion or consenting to it is subject to the maximum length of short-term imprisonment. Harsher penalties are imposed on physicians. Despite these penalties, few convictions are made for performing abortions because physical proof of abortion, such as traumatic injury to internal organs, is necessary to obtain a conviction.
Since 1988, some attempts have been made to increase the penalties for abortion and make them equal to the penalties for the offences of infanticide and homicide. To date, these attempts have been unsuccessful.
Despite these restrictions, Chile has had very high rates of abortion during the last three decades. In fact, the high rates of abortion and the resulting high rates of maternal mortality led the Chilean Government to be one of the first Latin American countries to give official support to family planning activities. Surveys conducted in the early 1960s indicated that one of every four women in Chile had undergone an abortion. After the introduction of family planning in the mid-1960s, fertility declined significantly, as did the incidence of induced abortion and maternal mortality resulting from complications of abortion; deaths from illegal abortion declined from 118 to 24 per 100,000 live births between 1964 and 1979. Current rates, however, are still considered to be too high. Maternal deaths from abortion are also viewed as too high, with abortion complications accounting for up to 40 per cent of all maternal deaths.
Family planning services in Chile are provided mostly to married women. In 1996, the Ministry of Education created and implemented a sex education programme, despite opposition from conservative groups. In the same year, the Ministry of Health started a programme for adolescent health that does not, however, include reproductive health services. The on-going privatization of the health care system in Chile is having an impact on the availability of family planning services for the poorest sectors of society.