[Marxism] Policy on Morning-After Pill Upsets Chile

Dbachmozart at aol.com Dbachmozart at aol.com
Sun Dec 17 08:13:16 MST 2006


Published: December 17, 2006
NY Times
SANTIAGO, _Chile_ 
(http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/chile/index.html?inline=nyt-geo) , Dec. 16 — President Michelle 
Bachelet of Chile  is a feminist and physician who used to practice pediatric 
medicine at public  clinics in poor neighborhoods. So it was hardly 
surprising that her government  recently liberalized contraception policy by making the 
so-called _morning-after pill_ 
available free at state-run  hospitals. 
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a doctor and feminist, has  made the 
so-called morning-after pill available free at state-run hospitals. 

But since Chile is perhaps the most socially conservative country in South  
America, the measure has generated complaints and challenges not only on the  
right, but even from some of her allies. Opponents of the policy are furious  
because girls as young as 14 are being allowed to have access to the emergency  
contraception without any requirement that their parents be notified. 
“It is hard to understand the motive for such a reaction,” Maria Soledad  
Barria, the minister of health and a physician, said in an interview here this  
week. After all, she noted, the age of consent in Chile is 14, and the  
morning-after pill, also known as Plan B emergency contraception, has been  
available at private pharmacies catering to the well-to-do for five years and  has 
survived court challenges. 
According to government statistics, 15 percent of all births in Chile are to  
mothers 18 or younger, most too poor to afford private care. Ms. Bachelet has 
 framed the issue as one of social justice, arguing that because “not 
everyone is  equal and not everyone has the same possibilities,” her duty is “to 
guarantee  that all Chileans have real options in this area, as in others.” 
The influential _Roman Catholic Church_ 
) , however, has condemned  distribution of the pill as a form of _abortion_ 
html?inline=nyt-classifier)  that encourages promiscuity and intrudes on  
personal freedoms. In a statement, the national conference of bishops said the  
government’s actions are “reminiscent of public policies established in  
totalitarian regimes, by which the state aimed to regulate the intimate lives of  
its citizens.” 
The Rev. Marcos Burzawa, director of the family vicariate for the archbishop  
of Santiago, said the government had “failed to consult and converse 
adequately  with parents and other sectors of society.” As a result, he said, “
parents feel  their views have not been taken into account and that these norms 
deprive them  of their role as the primary educators and tutors of their children.”
Opponents have also expressed concerns that the morning-after pill is really  
“a Trojan horse designed to clear the way for the legalization of abortion,” 
in  the words of Pablo Zalaquett, mayor of Santiago’s La Florida borough, who 
has  filed a suit seeking to halt the policy. Abortion is outlawed in this 
nation of  16 million, though public health experts estimate that at least 
150,000  abortions are performed each year. 
Government officials dismiss such concerns as baseless, part of an effort by  
the right-wing opposition to divide the government. They say that abortion is 
 not on the president’s legislative agenda, while acknowledging that some  
lawmakers in the coalition may disagree and act on their own against her  
“We are not going to do absolutely anything in this area, which is not part  
of our governing program,” Dr. Barria said. When asked why, in view of Ms.  
Bachelet’s feminist and professional background, she replied, “We are in a  
Since the dictatorship of Gen. _Augusto Pinochet_ 
 ended in 1990, Chile has been governed  by a center-left alliance whose main 
components are Ms. Bachelet’s Socialist  Party and the Christian Democrats, 
who are more conservative on social issues.  Though Socialists in Congress 
recently introduced a bill to legalize abortion,  the Christian Democrats 
vehemently oppose such legislation and have expressed  doubts about the morning-after 
pill policy. 
“When we are talking about girls between the ages of 14 and 18, parental  
consent is important,” said Senator Soledad Alvear, president of the Christian  
Democrats and Ms. Bachelet’s main rival for the alliance’s presidential  
nomination last year. “They can’t vote or drive a car or even buy cigarettes  
until they are 18,” she added. 
But Ms. Bachelet is also facing criticism for not pushing hard enough.  
“The fact that we have a woman president is not enough to bring about the  
changes we need,” said Valentina Martínez of La Morada, a women’s group that  
runs a health center here. “Abortion needs to be decriminalized in Chile, but  
there are authoritarian voices on the right and in the church that have vetoed 
 any kind of real debate or discussion.” 
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Mr. Zalaquett’s appeal of an  
intermediate court’s ruling permitting distribution of the pill. But some  conservative 
mayors are saying their religious beliefs will not allow the pill  to be 
distributed at public clinics in their municipalities, no matter how the  court 
In that case, the conflict could intensify. “We have a system of laws in this 
 country that applies to everybody,” Dr. Barria said. “Public officials in  
particular have an obligation to implement public policy, whether they like it 
 personally or not.”

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