Chile's lawmakers take key step toward decriminalizing abortion

Demonstrators shout slogans outside the Congress during a rally in support the draft law of the Chilean government which seeks to legalize abortion, in Valparaiso, August 4, 2015. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido (Reuters)

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile took a step toward easing its strict abortion ban on Tuesday after legislators in the nation's lower chamber voted to advance a bill that would overturn the prohibition. Amid applause from the gallery, the Health Commission of Chile's Chamber of Deputies voted eight to five to move forward on President Michelle Bachelet's landmark proposal to allow pregnancy terminations in certain circumstances. To become law, the bill will still need to win simple majorities in both the Chamber and the Senate, which could be difficult as the project faces significant opposition in both houses. "This is not a measure to promote abortion. What we're doing here is turning the state's choice into a choice for women," said Deputy Gabriel Silber, whose Christian Democratic Party is split over the reform, before casting a vote in favor of the move. Chile is one of only six countries worldwide with an outright ban on abortion due to legislation that was introduced by General Augusto Pinochet late into his 1973-1990 dictatorship. Bachelet's proposals would allow an abortion if a mother's life is in danger, if a fetus is unviable or when a pregnancy is a result of rape. But her own center-left ruling coalition is split, and key lawmakers in the deeply Catholic country have said that the rape clause is likely to be scrapped while the other clauses will face significant changes. As of July, only 55 legislators in the lower chamber supported the full bill, short of the 61 it will need to pass, and it is also expected to struggle in the Senate. (Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)