At age 11, Belén is 14 weeks pregnant. Her pregnancy, which occurred after she was repeatedly raped over the past two years by her mother’s partner, has been deemed by medical professionals as a danger to her health. Despite the risks involved for both her and the fetus, Belén has no choice but to see the pregnancy through because she lives in Puerto Montt, Chile—a country where abortion is banned without exception.
Abortions were legalized in cases where the mother’s life was in danger by the Chilean Health Code in 1967, only to be outlawed in 1989 under Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Pinochet has not been in office for decades, but his abortion policy is upheld by current President Sebastián Piñera, who shows no signs of changing the law.
In a television interview with Canal 13 on Monday, Belén spoke out against her mother’s claims that the rapes were consensual, but said that she will happily keep the baby—”it will be like [having] a doll”. Piñera publicly addressed her comments and her situation for the first time the following day on a trip to the city of Coquimbo:
She surprised us all with words showing depth and maturity when she said that, despite the pain caused by the man who raped her, she wanted to have and take care of her baby.
Piñera has been battered with criticism from health experts, politicians and citizens across the country who regard his statements as backwards and misguided. Based on his experience working with child survivors of sexual abuse, forensic psychologist Giorgio Agostini said that, at age 11, Belén could not understand what carrying a pregnancy to term involves:
At that age the girl doesn’t have a capacity of discernment; not even at age 14 would she have the mental and emotional capacity to discern this. It’s very likely that she is saying she wants to have the baby like a living doll. We’ve seen this in other investigations. So what the president is saying doesn’t get close to the psychological truth of an 11-year-old-girl.
Agostini’s views on the case are backed even by even staunch anti-abortion advocates who consider Belén’s case to be a necessary exception to Chile’s intransigent policies.
Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and former executive director of UN Women, told Radio ADN that Belén needed protection and that “a therapeutic abortion, in this case because of rape, would be in order.” Bachelet, who is running for a second presidential term in the upcoming November elections, has said that if elected she plans to legalize abortion for rape victims and if a pregnancy poses health risks to the mother or child. Not a fully pro-choice stand, but Chile’s political climate has remained unwaveringly conservative on this front since Pinochet’s dictatorship. Just last year, the Chilean Senate shot down three bills that would have created exceptions to the absolute ban on abortion.
However, the harrowing details of Belén’s case have brought many to action, and will perhaps bolster support for a bill introduced this year by Chilean senators. Modeled after the three unsuccessful bills from 2012, the proposal would legalize abortion in cases of rape, endangerment to the mother and child and in cases of a malformed fetus.
Accessing safe and legal abortions continues to be difficult throughout Latin America: They’re allowed without restrictions only in Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico and Uruguay. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 47,000 women’s lives worldwide are claimed every year by unsafe abortions, largely in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, and millions are injured by the unsafe procedures.
Photo of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera from Flickr user mabel flores under license from Creative Commons 2.0