More than 20,000 people marched on April 22 through the streets of Santiago to demonstrate their rejection of the Constitutional Court's ruling, which last week banned the distribution of the morning-after pill through the public health care system.
Earlier in the day, La Nacion reported: "The chairman of the Confederation of Workers of Health Municipalizada (Confusam), Esteban Maturana, said that the guild had accepted the call to paralyse its activities." Subsequently, 80% of medical clinics went on a one-day strike.
The Constitutional Court declared on April 4, by five votes in favour and four against, that the free distribution of the contraceptive, morning-after pill in public health services was illegal. In Chile, abortion is completely illegal.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared: "I deeply regret the judgement, in a country that aspires to be in the major leagues, where people have equal opportunities in health, education, and development ... this is an injury to the construction of a more equitable society."
The objection was submitted in early 2007 by 31 right-wing legislators against the decree of the health ministry, which provided for the free distribution of the emergency pill to teenagers older than 14 years without the consent of their parents.
The Catholic church lead an ideological battle against the decision, based on the "the right to life", with all forms of contraception considered as "immoral" as an abortion.
While this decision does not prevent the contraceptive pill being sold commercially in pharmacies — another indication that the privatisation of the health care system continues — the poor will suffer the most. Wealthy women will have the luxury of being able to pay for the pill.
In the lead up to the protest, the media reported that a 21 year-old woman was hospitalised after her boyfriend attempted to administer a backyard abortion. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon.
In an April 10 Clase Contra Clase article, Maria Caceres argued: "Today in the country there is between 160,000 and 200,000 abortions a year, even though abortion is illegal; tomorrow, with the recent [court] judgement, there will be double the abortions and we will see double the deaths due to clandestine abortions."
Caceres argued that "when speaking about reproductive rights, it's about rights that have been conquered by women years ago, through struggle, with the rise of the masses, through social and cultural change."
She concluded that "it's not about only defending the pills and other methods of contraception ... we should fight for [the proper] conditions and right to reproduction that are quality, and free."
[Gonzalo Villanueva maintains a blog, http://open-veins.blogspot.com.]