The Battle for Life: Unveiling the Abortion Provisions in Chile’s Proposed Constitution


This coming Sunday, Chileans will have the momentous opportunity to exercise their democratic right and cast their ballots in a referendum that will determine the fate of the present Constitution. This constitution has been in effect since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990. The referendum is part of the constituent process that began in 2020, following a surge of demonstrations in response to the high cost of living and inequality in Chile.

The first major milestone in this process was reached in September 2022 when millions of Chileans voted down the first draft of a new constitution in a nationwide referendum. This marked the end of a long and sometimes arduous process. Now, Chileans are standing on the precipice of change, hoping that this impending referendum will bring about a constitution that better reflects their values and aspirations.

It is worth noting that some observers argue that the present draft of the constitution is more conservative than the previous one that existed during the dictatorship. This draft was penned by a group presided over by liberals who sought to address the demands and concerns raised by the public during the social unrest of the previous years.

While numerous social rights and broad environmental safeguards were secured in the document, voters in Chile voiced their concerns in September 2022, rejecting the draft because they believed it was too extreme. This led to a change in the direction of the Constitution’s development, with a new right-wing Constituent Assembly taking charge.

This new assembly prepared a 216-article program that prioritizes private property rights and imposes stringent restrictions on immigration and abortion. It is this latter provision related to abortion that has garnered significant attention and debate in the lead-up to the referendum.

The proposed constitutional amendment that voters will decide on this coming Sunday is whether to include a provision that protects the “right to life and the protection of the life of the unborn child” for all citizens. This amendment has sparked intense discussion and controversy among those in favor and those opposing it.

The discussion revolves around the question of when life begins and the moral, ethical, and legal rights of the mother as opposed to the rights of the unborn child. Proponents of the amendment argue that the lives of unborn children should be protected and that their right to exist is fundamental. They contend that the law should prioritize the most defenseless human beings and provide them with the basic protection of life.

On the other hand, opponents of the amendment have expressed concerns about its potential impact on the existing Law on Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy for Three Reasons. This law, enacted six years ago, allows for abortion in cases of a threat to the mother’s life, nonviable embryos or fetuses, and pregnancies resulting from rape. Critics worry that shifting the focus from “what” to “who” might undermine the current provisions and restrict access to safe and legal abortions.

Different voices and perspectives emerge from the public discourse surrounding the referendum. Some argue that using the word “who” instead of “what” is an important step toward recognizing the personhood of the unborn child and ultimately invalidating the existing abortion law. They believe that this change in language is necessary to uphold the principles of human dignity and equality.

On the other side of the spectrum, some maintain that the Constitutional Council should not be dragged into debates about free abortion or the renunciation of abortion for three reasons. They emphasize the importance of consistency and the need for a constitution that reflects the values and beliefs of society as a whole.

As the referendum approaches, the people of Chile find themselves at a critical juncture in their nation’s history. The outcome of this vote will shape the future of the country, defining its values, principles, and protections for generations to come. The discussion surrounding the abortion-related provisions of the proposed new constitution highlights the complexities involved in striking a balance between the rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn child. It is a conversation that requires compassion, empathy, and respect for the diverse perspectives present within society. Ultimately, the voters will decide the path forward for Chile on this important issue come Sunday.