Home Institution

Northwestern University

Publication Date

Fall 2013

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


Background: Abortion legislation in Chile is among the most restrictive in the world, with abortion being illegal without exception. However, while abortion remains completely illegal in Chile, there are an estimated 125,000-175,000 clandestine abortions being carried out each year. Illegal abortions account for about 30% of maternal deaths in Chile. It is important to understand public opinions on abortion in order to understand this discrepancy between legislation and reality.

Research Objectives:What is the public opinion of Chileans on the legal and moral status of abortion in Chile? Do Chileans relate the topic of abortion to the theme of women’s rights, and how does this perception differ among men and women?

The general objective of this project was to understand public opinion on abortion in Chile and how people connect this issue to women’s rights. More specifically, the study aimed to explore how men and women perceive the moral implications of abortion and what men and women support as far as legal status of abortion.

Methodology:This study was utilized both quantitative and qualitative methods to understand public opinion. 102 surveys were distributed to men and women over the age of 18 in public places in the region of Valparaiso, Chile.Of these subjects, 59 were women and 43 were men. The surveys included a range of questions designed to gauge opinion on morality, legislation, and women’s rights in connection with abortion.

Results:The study found that the vast majority of the subjects were not in agreement with the current abortion legislation and thought that there was a necessity for reform. Only 13.6% of women and 18.6% were in agreement with the current legislation. The cases in which the highest percentage of men and women thought abortion should be legal were: cases where the mother’s life is in danger (women= 69,4%, men= 53,5%), in the case of rape (women=67,8%, men 62,8%), and in the case that the baby has a malformation (women= 44,1%, men= 25,6%); all these cases represent therapeutic abortions. Furthermore, it was found that almost all participants related their moral perceptions of abortion to what they wanted in terms of legality of abortion.

The majority of men and women believed that access to abortion was related to women’s rights, that women have the right to choose when to become pregnant, and that women have autonomy over their bodies. However, being in agreement with these statements did not translate into wanting increased access to abortion. In addition, it was found that women were more likely to think the legalization of abortion would lead to an increase in promiscuity, among both men and women. Overall, no sweeping trends were found as far as differences in opinions of men and women on abortion or women’s rights.

Conclusions:There is a need for legislativereform in Chile on the topic of abortion. It is clear that the people are not in agreement with the current legislation, and that there exists a desire for reform and movement towards, at the very least, therapeutic abortion. While both men and women seemed to make a connection between women’s rights and access to abortion, this connection, for the majority of the participants did not seem to extend beyond the right to a therapeutic abortion.


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Health Services Research | Maternal and Child Health | Public Health Education and Promotion | Women's Health


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