Chile Considering Legalizing “Therapeutic” Abortion

Opinion   |   Megan Moore   |   Mar 19, 2012   |   12:28PM   |   Washington, DC

The Chilean parliament is currently considering an amendment to the Penal Code that would legalise therapeutic abortion in a country widely acknowledged as having amongst the most stringent abortion laws in the world. It is unlikely to go through – nine such attempts to amend the law have been made since 1989, and President Sebastian Pinera has promised to veto it – but if the proposal is successful, it will mean a non-viable foetus, or a foetus which endangers the health of the mother, can be aborted without fear of prosecution. The move would, of course, be welcomed by pro-abortion groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, who have campaigned for such a change for many years.

As you might expect, I’m against the legalization of abortion in Chile. I am also in favour of banning abortion in my own country. As such, I am quite regularly accused of being authoritarian, callous, a theocrat, and actively in favour of women dying. So I thought I’d address two of the main arguments that are being made in favour of the proposal, because they’re not specific to Chile – they’re utilized by pro-abortion campaigners the world over. They are also, in my view, full of holes. So off we go.

1. Legal Abortion Improves Maternal Health

Early last year the Chilean journalist Catalina May wrote an article in the Guardian describing how women in Chile are forced to ‘risk their lives having illegal abortions in the worst conditions.’ An activist with the IPPF, in an article published two months later, described how Chilean women are ‘faced with impossible situations every day in relation to their reproductive lives.’

Powerful words – but they’re worth examining a little closer. The most interesting thing about these two articles is, despite being published mere months apart, the figures they give on the incidence of illegal abortion in Chile are hugely divergent. Catalina May claims it is 40,000 a year; the anonymous IPPF activist claims it is between 120,000 and 160,000. It’s not necessarily that one of them is wrong. Data on illegal abortion is consistently vague – largely because it is, as one would expect, incredibly hard to gather – and reliant on projections, so estimates of the incidence of illegal abortion vary wildly. There are also issues with how the data is collated, as our friend at the IPPF inadvertently demonstrates when she writes:

Given the Latin American region has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, it is not surprising that the latest WHO estimates show the unsafe abortion rate in Latin America (31 unsafe abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44) is greater than in any other region, including Africa.

The problem with the WHO estimates – and, to their credit, this is touched upon in the report – is that their figures include not only induced abortion but spontaneous abortion (also known as miscarriage) and early pregnancy loss. This is because illegal induced abortions are often described as spontaneous on official hospital documentation – but of course many, if not most, recorded spontaneous abortions will be exactly that. We don’t know how many aren’t. We can’t know.

Chile, it should be noted, has the best maternal health in Latin America. There isn’t actually that much evidence that legal abortion ipso facto improves maternal health, for the simple reason that maternal health depends primarily on a county’s overall standard of medical care. Maternal health will not be improved by legalising – and thus making more prevalent – abortion in a country that does not have the resources or expertise to treat any cases of haemorrhage and sepsis that may result. Chile happens to be a very good example of this. Abortion was first legalised in Chile in 1931: maternal mortality, however, continued to rise until 1937, after which it began to decline, staying on a downward trend even after abortion was banned once again 1989. This was because, in common with all other countries in the mid-20th century, impetus for rapid decline in maternal mortality came from the development of better treatment for postpartum haemorrhage, eclampsia and sepsis – which were then and still are the biggest maternal killers globally – rather than increased access to surgical abortion, which in many countries came decades after the global spike in maternal health seen in the 30s and 40s.

2. Banning Abortion is Anti-Woman

Er, no. This is an argument that really lends itself to soaring rhetoric – get your rosaries off my ovaries, women’s right to choose, etc etc – but the problem is there isn’t much substance to it. Try arguing that Chile is anti-woman. Seriously, try it. It has, as I have said, the best maternal healthcare in the region. The ‘Chile Crece Contigo’ (Chile Grows With You) initiative, introduced in 2006, ensures a range of measures to support young families, including generous childcare provision for poorer women. In short, Chile values women because it values families. What’s more, it doesn’t see children’s worth as contingent on their genetic structure or the circumstances of their conception or the esteem in which their mothers hold them. And it is this respect for human life, with the acknowledgement that the proper place for its creation is within the married family, that informs and upholds their deep respect for women. Go and read the predictions of the breakdown of trust between men and women that were made by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. See just how prescient they were. (Yeah, I know. Catholics, being right about something? Good Lord.)

The women who suffer most from this devaluing of traditional human relationships are, ironically, the women whom pro-abortion activists claim to be acting to protect – poor women. It’s often argued that restricting access to legal abortion first and foremost disadvantages those who can’t afford to order misoprostol off the Internet or make an appointment in one of the more sanitary illegal clinics. In the short term, illegal abortion probably does disadvantage women.

But not in the long term. As Ed West has recently argued in the Telegraph, sexual liberation in general – the encouragement of pre-marital sex, co-habitation and separation leading to step-families – does not help poorer and more disadvantaged women, given the role that traditional family structures play in social mobility and the eradication of poverty. Abortion, by artificially severing sexual relations from their natural consequences, devalues the firm, monogamous family structures which ultimately benefit women.

To some of our more enthusiastic comrades on the pro-abortion side, this is all utterly risible. They think the only way to show you value the lives of women is to grant them a radical and self-destructive form of freedom that denies, against all reason and argument, that life – valuable human life – exists inside them from the moment of conception.

Chile is proving them wrong. Long may they continue to do so.

Many thanks to Paula Mendez for her help in the research of this post.

LifeNews Note: Megan Moore is a Conservative Party activist.