By Alexander Villegas
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's divisive battle over abortion rights could get a central role in the Andean country's planned new constitution after an assembly voted to approve part of the draft text that calls on the state to guarantee women's reproductive rights.
A week after thousands of women marched through the streets of Santiago on International Women's Day, Chile's constituent assembly voted to include reproductive rights, including "a voluntary interruption of pregnancy" in the draft constitution.
Fighting through tears before the vote on Tuesday, constituent Loreto Vidal took the floor to talk about how her mother died due to a septic abortion.
"They try to divide us as those who are in favor of life, and those apparently in favor of death," Vidal said.
"Every person has the right to liberty, understood as the free determination of their personality, their life projects, their identity and the autonomy over their body."
While historically conservative with a strong influence from the Catholic Church, Latin America has seen abortion rights expand in recent years with Mexico, Argentina and Colombia.
Chile's Congress, however, rejected a bill in November that sought to expand legal access to abortions. Termination is legal for women under conditions where their life was in danger, a fetus unviable or when a pregnancy resulted from rape.
Chile would become the first Latin American country to have the right to abortion enshrined in its constitution if the new text is approved in a referendum later this year. It would replace one dating to the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship decades ago.
The move would not automatically expand legal abortion rights, said Carla Navea, a mother of three girls from the northern city of Antofagasta, but would mark a step forward for future generations of Chilean women.
"As a woman and as a mother of three girls, this means we'll stop being second-class citizens," Navea said. "The power to decide for ourselves is the most important."
While Chile's constituent assembly is predominantly made up of left-leaning members and independents, Congress is split and could be a limiting factor to the new Constitution and new leftist president Gabriel Boric's progressive goals.
"(Congress) is pretty even when it comes to protection or no protection, access or no access," said Danitza Perez, director of an association of feminist lawyers in Chile.
"What the Constitution does in this case is make a framework of sexual and reproductive rights that have to be developed at a legal level."
(Reporting by Alexander Villegas and Natalia Ramos; Editing by David Gregorio)