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Chile: With Therapeutic Abortion Up for Vote, Chile is Pro-Tweet

As Chile’s Senate decides whether to join the all but five countries around the world that allow therapeutic abortion, Chileans are signing on to social networks en masse to talk straight to politicians about the previously swept-under-the-rug topic.

Nine months ago, three Chilean politicians from the Senate Health Committee nudged the taboo topic onto the table. As early as this week, the Senate must choose whether to allow abortion when a mother’s life is in danger, when there is an unviable fetus, and in cases of rape.

Legislative decisions

Chile, a leader in Latin American modernity, makes headlines for its hearty economy. At the same time, necklines still run high, divorce was legalized only in 2004, and traditional family values reign in the 70-percent Catholic nation. Despite pressure from UN-based lobbyists and its popularity in the poles, this is the first time therapeutic abortion hit the Senate floor since it was banned in 1989 at the tail end of Augosto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Malta and Vatican City stand as the last places without legalized therapeutic abortion.

The Senate will be deciding on all three pieces of the legislation as soon as Senate President Guido Girardi puts the legislation up for vote. In Chile, the issue has overwhelming popularity in the poles:  94 percent of Chileans believe it’s time for a legislation revision.

Karen Espindola lost her two and a half year old, Oswald, in July. A severe brain defect plagued him since the day he was born. She employs Twitter [es], Blogspot [es] and traditional media outlets to spread the word about his painful life story. She blogs to convince legislators to support therapeutic abortion. One opinion piece [es] she wrote has been shared on Twitter 792 times and 2121 times on Facebook.

Under @KEspindola, she recently tweeted:

Hoy amaneci echandote de menos a veces no soporto esto,que hacer cuando un hijo se te va despues de una vida corta y llena de sufrimiento?

Today, I woke up missing you. Sometimes I can’t stand this. What can you do when a child passes away after a short life full of suffering?

How to resolve the weighty question is now driving a wedge between the center-right National Renewal party (RN). President Sebastián Piñera, a member of RN, vowed to veto any abortion legislation that passes through congress. The already unpopular president’s approval ratings tanked to a 25-year record low of 22 percent according to a poll from the Center for the Study of Contemporary Reality (CERC).

Those against legalizing therapeutic abortion often argue that it would create a slippery slope toward legalizing all abortion. If any form of abortion is legalized, pro-choice advocates could point to a precedent. While many pro-life groups distinguish between therapeutic abortion from abortion in general, accionfamilia.org [es], a pro-life blog, believes that the therapeutic abortion legislation veils what actually, “deserves the name of ‘abortion with the pretext of being therapeutic.’”

Online opinions

Piñera fell out with the bloggers behind Chile Liberal: speaking truth to power [es], when he strayed from socially liberal campaign promises regarding abortion and gay marriage according to the blog. They asked the president to reconsider his bar-nun decision to veto. The blog reads [es]:

Presidente: deje que prospere el debate en el Congreso y absténgase de emplear el veto, por mucho que lo amenacen nuevamente. …. Póngase firme con el aborto terapéutico, deje en claro que es la decisión de una instancia legítima, como lo es el Congreso Nacional.

President: Let the debate in Congress thrive and don’t employ a veto, even if you’re being pressured to do it… Put your signature on the therapeutic abortion legislation, let it be clear that it is legitimate, since it is from our National Congress.

Espindola tweeted [es]:

Tengo mucha rabia el presidente defendera la vida hasta su muerte natural y el sufrimiento de un hijo con una malfor cerebral severa q hacen.

I’m furious that a president, who defends life until a natural death, allows the suffering of a child with a severe brain defect to do it.

Karla Rubilar, an RN deputy, shares the president’s political party, but has a different opinion on the issue. She said she will vote in favor of therapeutic abortion.

Rubilar’s Twitter account boasts a stampede of almost 20 thousand followers, considering that she represents only a slice of constituents from Chile’s capital city. She called Twitter “a great system. It’s a revolution in how we do politics. It’s practically instantaneous and checks the pulse of the how citizens feel.”

Rubilar told Mi Voz that one young man’s tweet actually jumped from the virtual world into a real political discussion. The less-than-140 characters opened her eyes to the importance of providing palliative care for fetuses with severe brain defects. Rubilar brought this to the health minister and representatives from other political parties. New legislation to help mothers pay for palliative care is now underway.

Chileans spend an average of 8.7 hours a month on social networking sites, compared to the 5.4-hour worldwide average according to a comScore, Inc survey. Facebook corralled its third highest percentage of users from Chile. Chilean tweets and blog posts aren’t wandering aimlessly through cyber space. Politicians are paying close attention; This month Piñera met with 15 of Chile’s “most influential” Twitter users. Citizens are tweeting out.

Katie Manning wrote this post as part of our partnership with Mi Voz.

Image of pregnancy test by JOE MARINARO on Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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