Chile: a Democracy Without Debate?

Editor's note: Today we welcome Dr. Moisés Russo, writing from Chile. He has experience in healthcare and bioethics, and will be reporting on reproductive health in South America.

Is not Chile the country in Latina America that sets an example of a working democracy after a military regime? Isn't Chile the country where the government and opposition coalitions have provided stability for the past 16 years? Perhaps it is, although we may realize today that the price for stability that Chilean parliamentarians are willing to pay is far too much: women's lives.

Abortion is illegal in Chile since the last year of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship (1989), where it was banned even if it is medically required to save the mother's life. The tragedy of unsafe abortion in Chile, where an estimated 150,000 illegal abortions — 1/3 of the total pregnancies take place every year, was finally brought cautiously forward by parliamentarians of the ruling political coalition. Being mindful of how the abortion debate stirs immediate self-righteous right wing folly, they presented a project that would make induced abortion legal until 12 weeks if the mother's life is in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of rape. Incomprehensibly, the proposed law didn't stir any debate, not because it was approved, but because it wasn't even discussed! An alliance of right wing politicians, including the Christian Democrats (who are part of the governmental left-wing coalition), voted to not to discuss the bill at all. Conservative parliamentarians have effectively undermined one of the pillars of democracy, the possibility of debate. Although more than 50% of the population agrees with having some form of abortion legalized, parliamentarians have decided that even though unsafe abortion is a recognized problem, they will not even discuss the matter.

Although the Chilean government has been setting some public health examples on how to address some sexual and reproductive health problems (President Michele Bachelet recently approved the distribution of free emergency contraception for minors 14 years or older), the legislative branch is not living up to the challenge to maintain a legitimate democracy. If problems like unsafe abortion not only are kept secret, but can't even be debated, how can the Chilean congress claim to be representing the Chilean people? What is the purpose of parliamentarians if not to debate the most important problems in society? Apparently, Chilean women will have to wait longer for their voices to have even a chance of being heard.

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