• Press Release

Chile: Urgent progress needed on right to decide after young woman arrested for a clandestine abortion

November 13, 2015

The arrest of a 22-year-old woman in Temuco for “consensual abortion” is yet another sign that the Chilean authorities have no time to lose with advancing legislation in the works to decriminalize abortion, Amnesty International said today.

She is under investigation since Tuesday 10 November and faces charges after a complaint made by healthcare staff at the hospital where she arrived with bleeding after using of Misoprostol, a drug sold on the black market to terminate pregnancy.

According to information received by Amnesty International, the young woman has been placed on partial house arrest and must report to the police (Carabineros) monthly as precautionary measures.

“Criminalizing abortion is a violation of the human rights of women and girls,” said Ana Piquer, Executive Director of Amnesty International Chile.

“It is imperative that this young woman be released from house arrest and given the medical care she may need in the future.”

The Criminal Procedure Code, which dates back to 2000, states that health professionals have a duty to report a crime if they see signs of one. This includes consensual abortion, considered a crime under Chilean law. To counter this, in 2009 the Ministry of Health issued regulations establishing that it should not apply in the case of women and girls who “confess” to having undergone a clandestine abortion in order to receive medical attention as a result of the intervention. However, not all health professionals interpret these rules in the same way; some prioritize the obligation to report a crime out of fear of being criminalized themselves.

This case demonstrates once again the urgency of advancing as quickly as possible with the bill, in Congress since January 2015, which will regulate abortion on three grounds. An essential part of the bill is the approval of the proposed exceptions, since medical confidentiality takes precedence over the duty to report crimes relating to abortion.

Medical confidentiality is an ethical duty of health professionals which guarantees all individuals’ human right to privacy and which is particularly relevant when women seek medical treatment for complications stemming from an abortion.

It is clear that, as in Chile today, if women lack sufficient certainty that their privacy will be respected, it reduces their chances for receiving timely health services when needed to save their life or health. This was previously recognized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the World Health Organization.

"We urge the authorities at the highest level to send a clear signal by lifting the precautionary measures against this young woman and granting her medical and psychological care if needed. They must also ensure that health professionals and will not suffer consequences for conmplying 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,” said Ana Piquer.

“Today we have seen the worrying news that in the municipality of San Ramón in Santiago, a 27-year-old was arrested, apparently for having induced an abortion, also following a complaint by the health professional who treated her. We are verifying this information and will call for her release if necessary. In Chile in the 21st century the right to choose must become a reality for all.”