Chile could see its total ban on abortion eased following Michelle Bachelet’s victory in presidential elections.
Centre-left Bachelet, who was Chile's first female president from 2006 to 2010, won an easy victory on Sunday and will take over from conservative Sebastian Pinera in March.
During her election campaign, Bachelet promised to usher in a series of social reforms that could shake up the socially conservative nation, including legalising abortion under certain circumstances.
Chile is one of seven countries in Latin America where abortion is totally banned, with no explicit exception written in law to allow it in order to save a woman’s life.
“We want to push for the decriminalisation of abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, rape, or when the foetus has no chance of surviving after birth because we’re talking about something that’s crucial. We’re talking about a focus on women’s rights and also the prevention (of unwanted pregnancies),” Bachelet told local reporters during the campaign trail.
Bachelet, who is the former head of U.N. Women, said her government would spearhead policies to promote women’s rights and equality, including opening more nurseries and pre-schools to help working mothers and to promote reproductive rights to make it easier for women to access family planning and emergency contraception.
The president-elect has said she also plans to promote sex education in schools that is "laic and humanist".
Bachelet, known as a moderate socialist, is likely to face stiff opposition from the Catholic Church and conservative lawmakers in the country.
Like much of Latin America, Chile is predominantly Catholic, and the Catholic Church and conservative lawmakers, along with evangelical groups, argue that abortion infringes on the rights of an unborn child, which should be protected by law at all costs.
Last year, the Chilean senate rejected three bills that would have allowed abortion under certain circumstances.
Easing Chile’s abortion ban would save lives, women’s rights groups say. The country’s tough abortion laws mean women are more likely to undergo dangerous backstreet abortions, which put their lives at risk.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), botched abortions are a leading cause of maternal death in all parts of the world, accounting for 12 percent of maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on 2008 figures.
Bachelet has also promised to have an "open debate" on gay marriage and to create a bill which would be sent to Congress to allow gay marriage.