Chile's conservative opposition requested that the Constitutional Tribunal dismiss a bill that would legalize abortion in three exceptional cases: if the pregnancy was the result of a rape, if it endangers the mother's life, or if the fetus is malformed.
As the country's Congress was about to finally approve the final version of the bill after two and a half years of negotiations in Congress, senators from the conservative Chile Vamos coalition challenged the bill in the morning.
The coalition argued that the bill was unconstitutional because the Constitution “protects the life that is about to be born,” according to the 67-page document they handed to the tribunal.
A few hours earlier, the lower chamber approved the final draft of the bill, modified by a commission of representatives and senators, as a previous version of the bill passed in Senate failed to pass in the lower chamber after falling only one vote short.
One lawmaker from the governing coalition, the Christian-Democrat Marcelo Chavez, abstained over a paragraph that would have legalized abortion for minors under 14 years of age without parental approval.
In the final version modified today, lawmakers decided that minors under 14 years old will require the approval of their legal representative. If the latter disapproves or does not exist, then a court will be entitled to approve the abortion only if her doctor can provide documented evidence that the pregnancy threatens her life.
If the pregnancy was the result of a rape, women will be allowed to abort during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy — 14 weeks if she is under 14 years old.
Senators are now expected to approve the bill without further delay.
Pro-choice groups fear that the Constitutional Tribunal will not make a decision before Aug. 31, when its president will change for Ivan Arostica, a conservative anti-abortion judge close to former President Sebastian Piñera.
But the government hopes to reach an agreement with the constitutional judges within 10 days, according to official sources.
On Wednesday, Communist lawmaker Camila Vallejo criticized the government for turning down her request to remove Marisol Peña, an anti-abortion judge from the Constitutional Tribunal.
“We find it important that the Constitutional Tribunal and the public opinion know that there are prejudices from the part of the judge (Peña) and probably Judge (Cristian) Letelier,” said Vallejo.
Chile is one of only a handful of countries worldwide where abortion is illegal without exception. The ban was put in place during the last days of Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship.
Bachelet pledged to reform it when she took office for the second time in 2014 but has faced heavy pushback from the conservative opposition.
However, although Chile is one of Latin America's countries most heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, opinion polls show about 70 percent of Chileans favor easing the abortion ban.
Under the current law, abortion is punishable by up to five years in prison.
However, about 30,000 provoked or spontaneous terminations are recorded each year in the country. According to a pro-choice group, the number of clandestine abortions could be as high as 160,000.