The Battle for Life: Assessing Chile’s Proposed Constitution and its Abortion Provisions

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On November 27, 2023, Chileans will head to the polls to vote in a referendum that will determine the future of their constitution. This constitution has been in effect since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and has faced criticism for its conservative nature. The constituent process, which began in 2020, was initiated after a series of protests highlighting the high cost of living and inequality in the country.

In the previous referendum in 2022, Chileans rejected the first draft of a new constitution, signaling a long and frustrating process. The present draft has drawn criticism for its conservative leanings, with observers noting that it is more conservative than the constitution that existed during the dictatorship. The initial effort was penned by a group of liberals, but the right-wing Constituent Assembly has since taken over and prepared a program that prioritizes private property rights and strict restrictions on immigration and abortion.

One of the most significant provisions of the proposed constitution relates to abortion. This coming Sunday, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would protect the “right to life and the protection of the life of the unborn child” for all citizens. This amendment emphasizes the protection of unborn children and reinforces the idea that every human being is a person deserving of rights.

The present Constitution already guarantees legal protections for the lives of unborn children. It prohibits the execution of a person and recognizes the right to life for pregnant women and their unborn children. However, there are concerns that this new emphasis on the right to life might weaken the current Law on Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy, which allows abortion in certain circumstances.

The Law on Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy, enacted six years ago, allows abortion in three scenarios: when there is a threat to the mother’s life, when the embryo or fetus is not viable, and when the pregnancy is the result of rape. Some experts worry that shifting the focus from “what” to “who” might undermine the protections provided by this law.

The debate over abortion rights has been contentious in Chile, with different perspectives clashing. Supporters of the constitutional amendment argue that it is important to recognize the rights of the unborn child and that the right to life should be explicitly protected in the constitution. They believe that ensuring the right to life from conception to natural conclusion is a fundamental protection that should be given to the most defenseless human being.

On the other side, there are those who believe that the discussion should not be about free abortion or the abandonment of abortion rights. They argue for consistency and caution, stating that the Constitutional Council should not be dragged into debates on this matter.

The outcome of the upcoming referendum will have significant implications for the future of Chile’s constitution and the rights of its citizens, particularly when it comes to issues like abortion. The decision made by voters will shape the country’s legal framework and determine the direction in which Chile moves forward. It remains to be seen how this contentious issue will be ultimately resolved, but it is clear that Chile’s proposed new constitution holds significant importance for its citizens and their rights.

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