Examining Abortion Provisions in Chile’s Proposed New Constitution: Voters’ Decision This Sunday

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This coming Sunday, Chileans will have a momentous opportunity to shape the future of their nation as they cast their ballots in a referendum that will determine the fate of the present Constitution. The current Constitution, which has been in effect since Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, has faced scrutiny and criticism in recent years due to its origins and the social inequalities it perpetuates. In response to the country’s high cost of living and inequality, millions of Chileans took to the streets in protest, demanding change. As a result, a constituent process was initiated in 2020, leading to this upcoming referendum.

The first attempt to draft a new constitution was met with disappointment, as the proposed draft was rejected by the majority of voters in a referendum held in 2022. Despite the setbacks, the process continued, and a new right-wing Constituent Assembly took charge. This new assembly prepared a 216-article program that many consider to be more conservative than the previous constitution, resembling the one in place during the dictatorship. The new draft prioritizes private property rights and imposes stringent restrictions on immigration and abortion.

One of the most contentious issues in the proposed constitution relates to abortion. Voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would grant the “right to life and the protection of the life of the unborn child” to all citizens. The debate on abortion has sparked heated discussions among Chileans, with proponents of the amendment arguing for the protection of the unborn child’s rights and opponents expressing concerns over potential limitations on the existing Law on Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy for Three Reasons.

Currently, the only circumstances under which abortion is legal in Chile are if the mother’s life is at risk, if the fetus is not viable, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape. Some individuals worry that the emphasis on the “right to life” in the proposed constitution may undermine the existing law, which was enacted six years ago and allows for limited access to abortion. Critics argue that by shifting the focus from “what” to “who,” there is a risk of invalidating the current law and making it even harder for women to access safe and legal abortion services.

Different opinions have emerged regarding the constitutional amendment. Former Council vice president Aldo Valle stated that using the word “who” reinforces the principle that every human being is a person, with the intention of paving the way to constitutionally invalidate the existing abortion law. On the other hand, Paloma Zúñiga emphasizes the need for consistency and believes that the Constitutional Council should not be entangled in debates about free abortion or the abandonment of the three reasons for abortion. Meanwhile, Antonio Barchiesi argues that legal caution must be exercised when it comes to the unborn child, emphasizing that the right to life is the most fundamental protection that should be afforded to the most vulnerable human beings. Carolina Navarrete asserts that the right to life, from conception to natural conclusion, should be explicitly and firmly enshrined in the new constitution.

As voters head to the polls this Sunday, the abortion-related provisions of Chile’s proposed new constitution weigh heavily on their minds. The outcome of this referendum will have far-reaching implications for women’s reproductive rights and the protection of the unborn child. It remains to be seen whether the proposed constitutional amendment will pass and shape Chile’s legal framework for years to come.