by Steven Ertelt
September 14, 2006
Santiago, Chile (LifeNews.com) — An appeals court in Chile has stopped a plan in the South American nation from moving forward that would have seen the distribution of morning after pills to teenagers without parental knowledge or consent. The proposal came under heavy criticism from the Catholic Church after national health officials announced it.
The court ruling came in response to two legal challenges against the nation’s top health officials.
Government spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber indicated the nation would abide by the ruling but indicated that Health Minister Soledad Barría would defend the new program in court in a hearing later this month.
"We are going to establish the validity of our points of view, because we believe that we are right on this question, and that the government has the right to introduce this policy," Weber told the IPS news agency.
After the government announced the morning after pill program, mayors in several cities refused to abide by it in health clinics in their jurisdictions and they took the government to court.
“We are considering presenting a case to the Constitutional Tribunal that the administrative measure violates one of the fundamental rights of our Constitution: the right to teach our own children (how to behave) until they are mature enough to make important decisions," La Barnechea Mayor Marta Ehlers said, according to the Santiago Times.
As a result of the Santiago court’s decision on Wednesday, the morning after pills will not be distributed free to teenagers through government-funded health clinics and hospitals.
Soledad Alvear, the president of the Christian Democratic Party, which forms part of the ruling coalition of parties, told IPS the decision respects the rights of parents.
"When we’re talking about girls between the ages of 14 and 18, parental consent is important," Alvear said.
Socialist President Michelle Bachelet backed the morning after pill program and defended the government from criticism from the Catholic Church. Bachelet defended the decision as a way to reduce the number of illegal abortions in Chile, which prohibits abortions.
"My task, my obligation and my duty is to guarantee that all Chileans have real options in this area," she said.
Prior to the new program, the morning after pill was only available to women who were victims of rape and then only in pharmacies and not local clinics. The new program followed a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell Plan B over the counter.
Some 14 percent of teenagers in Chile become pregnant by the age of 14 and 40,000 babies are born every year to teenage moms. Still, the teen birth rate has dropped from 16 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2004.
The Chile government hopes to get the rate to lower to nine percent by giving away the morning after pills.