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Chile: A 22-year-old woman arrested for having an abortion must be released

Woman under house arrest after hospital staff complained to the authorities

Legislation to decriminalise abortion is currently before Chile’s Congress but must be speeded up

The arrest of a 22-year-old woman in the city of Temuco in Chile for “consensual abortion” must spur the Chilean authorities on to pass proposed legislation to decriminalise abortion, Amnesty International said today.

The woman, who has been under investigation since Tuesday 10 November, faces charges after a complaint was made by healthcare staff at the hospital where she sought treatment. She arrived at the hospital bleeding after using Misoprostol, a drug sold on the black market to terminate pregnancy. According to information received by Amnesty, the young woman has been placed under partial house arrest and must report to the police monthly as a precautionary measure.

The case demonstrates the urgency of advancing as quickly as possible the bill which has been in Congress since January 2015, which will regulate abortion on certain grounds.

Amnesty International Chile’s Executive Director Ana Piquer said:

“Criminalising abortion is a violation of the human rights of women and girls. It is imperative that this young woman be released from house arrest and given the medical care she may need in the future,

“In Chile in the 21st century the right to choose must become a reality for all.”

Health professionals under pressure

Chile’s Criminal Procedure Code states that health professionals have a duty to report a crime if they see evidence of one. This includes abortion which is considered a crime under Chilean law.

To counter this, in 2009 the Ministry of Health issued regulations establishing that this rule should not apply in the case of women and girls who “confess” to having undergone a clandestine abortion in order to receive medical attention. However, not all health professionals interpret these rules in the same way and some prioritise the obligation to report a crime out of fear of being criminalised themselves.

Ana Piquer said:

“Chile’s authorities must also ensure that health professionals will not suffer consequences for complying with their duty to medical confidentiality when caring for women with complications arising from unsafe abortions, as reflected in the 2009 rules and international human rights standards.”

The bill waiting to be passed by Congress since January 2015, will also help protect medical professionals by clarifying that medical confidentiality takes precedence over the duty to report crimes relating to abortion.

The Americas have some of the most draconian laws on abortion in the world. In Chile, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname, a total ban on abortion in all circumstances, including for girls and women pregnant as a result of rape or who experience life-threatening complications in their pregnancies, remains in place with those seeking or providing an abortion risking lengthy imprisonment.

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