An 11-year-old Chilean girl who has become pregnant from rape is renewing a contentious debate over abortion in the conservative Catholic country, where the medical procedure is illegal under all circumstances. Doctors have warned that continuing the pregnancy will be dangerous for the 11-year-old’s health, as well as for the health of her fetus. But, under Chile’s total abortion ban, she is forced to continue it anyway.
The young girl is now 14 weeks pregnant. Her mother’s boyfriend has confessed to sexually abusing the child over the past two years, and is now in custody.
Abortion was legal in Chile under some medical circumstances until Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship instated a total ban in 1973. The current conservative administration has remained firmly opposed to loosening the harsh ban. According to the Santiago Times, Chile is now one of just six countries in the world — including Vatican City — with such stringent anti-abortion laws.
But now that the 11-year-old’s case has been made public, Chileans are beginning to push for change. Some opponents have started an online petition to demand legal abortion access in cases when the woman has been raped or when the woman’s health is at risk.
“It’s the first online petition I’ve signed in my life, but I think this case really deserves it. I hope this case serves as precedent to have a serious discussion about abortion,” Eduardo Hernandez, a 30-year-old Chilean web designer, told the Associated Press. “When I heard about this little girl, my first reaction was to support abortion because I think it’s the best option in this case.”
This past year, the Chilean Senate rejected three different bills that would have loosened the total ban. But some of Chile’s presidential candidates have indicated that they support amending the abortion law. Former president Michele Bachelet, who is emerging as a front-runner in the country’s upcoming election, confirmed on Twitter that she would work to decriminalize abortion for rape victims if she is elected.
The handful of other countries that also impose total abortion bans have already illustrated the stark consequences of denying women access to reproductive care. In El Salvador, a dying 22-year-old woman was recently denied the right to a life-saving abortion even though her fetus was missing a brain and had no chance of surviving outside of the womb. In Ireland, a 31-year-old woman died after being denied an abortion in a Catholic hospital, and numerous doctors have confirmed that being allowed to terminate her pregnancy would have saved her life. In the Dominican Republic, a 16-year-old pregnant teen died after her doctors refused to give her chemotherapy treatment because it may have harmed her fetus. And across the entire globe, an estimated 47,000 women die each year because they lack access to safe, legal abortion care.