More good news from Chile, where President Michelle Bachelet has refused to bow to reactionary forces in the Church and in the State, choosing instead to stand up for the reproductive rights of young women. Last week, she signed a decree to reinstate a program that would allow adolescent girls aged 14 and over free access to the morning-after pill. Her reasoning was simple: when taken correctly, emergency contraception is highly effective at preventing pregnancy. This is a particularly important resource in Chile, since according to government statistics, adolescents in Chile have 40,000 unwanted pregnancies a year—in fact, 15 percent of all births in Chile are to mothers 18 or younger, most without the means to afford quality care. Even though abortion is illegal under any circumstances—including life-threatening pregnancies, health-threatening pregnancies, and pregnancies resulting from rape or incest—over 100,000 Chilean women seek unsafe, illegal abortions every year, and over 30,000 of them wind up in the hospital with complications.
The Chilean Health Ministry took steps to address this situation back in September, when it established a new set of norms that made birth control, including EC, available from public health centers free of charge, and allowed adolescents 14 and over to access the new services without parental consent. The Catholic Church immediately opposed the norms, and according to the New York Times, "condemned distribution of the pill as a form of abortion [wrong] that encourages promiscuity [wrong] and intrudes on personal freedoms [huh?]." The national conference of bishops went on to say that the new norms were "reminiscent of public policies established in totalitarian regimes, by which the state aimed to regulate the intimate lives of its citizens." Perhaps the bishops were referring to the unilateral criminalization of abortion during the final days of General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship? Somehow, I doubt it.
Members of several right-wing parties were also quick to oppose the new norms, mainly because they lacked a parental consent requirement for adolescents. But as Chilean Health Minister Maria Soledad Barria pointed out, the age of consent in Chile is 14. Nevertheless, opponents took their cast to the Constitutional Court, and on January 12, distribution of EC was blocked based on an administrative technicality.
Undeterred, Bachelet has reinstated the norms by presidential decree, adding a counselling requirement for adolescents. Good for her! Now if only a prominent U.S. political figure would stand up for our right to access EC, given all this…
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