Win or lose, a watershed moment for abortion rights in Chile


“Win or lose, the Constitutional Convention & the mass movement that brought it about mark a watershed moment in Chilean history.”

Ellioté Long, Abortion Rights

Abortion Rights supporter Ellioté Long writes about the developments for reproductive rights in Chile

Some hopeful news from Chile. At the beginning of July 2022, Chile’s constitutional convention published its final draft ahead of the nationwide plebiscite in September. The country’s new draft constitution enshrines the right to abortion, in an ambitious framework of social and economic justice. 

In October 2020, almost 80% of Chileans voted to draft a new text to replace the Pinochet-era constitution which has remained largely intact since the dictator’s fall in 1990. This vote was held following the 2019-2020 estallido social (literally, social outburst), a protest over metro fare hikes which blossomed into a mass uprising and general strike. Protestors were motivated by diverse struggles but they rallied around the cry “no son 30 pesos, son 30 años”: metro fares went up by 30 pesos, but people took to the streets to resist the austerity, policing and the erosion of social welfare that have dominated the post-authoritarian era. So, this draft constitution is the product of a long struggle against Pinochet’s legacy: indigenous communitiesfeminist networkstrade unions and others made up a broad coalition that pushed for a new constitution and helped craft the final text. 

The draft constitution would overturn Chile’s extremely tight restrictions on abortion, which has only been legal in cases of rape, risk to life of the pregnant person or fatal foetal anomaly since 2017. That victory came after a decades-long struggle against the total abortion ban which was introduced in 1989Article 61, on sexual and reproductive rights, enshrines the State’s responsibility to provide: “the conditions for a voluntary and protected pregnancy, abortion, childbirth and parenthood” for all women and people with the capacity to get pregnant. Thanks to feminist organising around the Constitutional Convention, the new text takes a wholistic view of reproductive rights that includes both the right to have children and the right not to. The particulars of Chile’s new abortion regulations would be worked out in new legislation passed by the Congress and activists are aware that a constutitional promise does not automatically guarantee abortion access in reality. Nonetheless, this new draft constitution is already being celebrated a big step forwards for reproductive freedom in Chile.

Crucially, the new Constitution situates reproductive rights within a broader framework of bodily autonomy, economic justice and self-determination for indigenous peoples. In the days of Pinochet and the ‘Chicago boys’, Chile became a laboratory of Neoliberalism. This ideology, which dismanted workers’ rights, deregulated major industries and turned the social safety net over to for-profit corporations, has also characterised the post-authoritarian era. So, it is particularly significant that the new draft constitution declares a “social and democratic State” which will guarantee Chileans’ rights to health, education, pensions and housing, among other social goods. The Convention has incorporated the demands of feminists, workers and indigenous peoples by weaving gender equality, dignity for all and a ‘plurinational’ understanding of Chile into the fabric of the constitution

Activists and Convention delegates are well under way with the plebicite campaign. They have got their work cut out for them, though; late-June polling suggested that the majority of Chileans plan to vote against the new text. Rising to the challenge, feminist organisers have been mobilising their networks and running community outreach workshops on the new constitution and its garantees for reproductive freedom. 

Win or lose, the Constitutional Convention and the mass movement that brought it about mark a watershed moment in Chilean history. The collective power built during the estallido social and the Constitutional Convention will last well beyond the vote and it is already inspiring people around the world. The work that feminists have done to incorporate reproductive freedom and gendered lens into the draft constitution will ‘leave its stamp’, even if the new text is not adopted. In the words of Félix Galleguillos, a Convention delegate representing the Lickanatay Indigenous community,  “the process has been full of hope from the beginning”. That hope will remain, whatever the plebiscite decides on 4 September.

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