Leftist Chilean lawmakers lodge abortion bill in Congress

Campaigners shout slogans during a demonstration in the Chilean capital Santiago in support of abortion campaigners in Argentina, on August 8, 2018

Leftist opposition MPs in Chile on Tuesday presented a bill in Congress seeking to legalize abortion in the conservative South American country, weeks after a similar bid in Argentina was narrowly defeated.

Abortion in Chile was decriminalized under the previous leftist government in a landmark vote in Congress last year but only in cases of rape or in medical emergencies.

Thousands of people marched in Santiago last month demanding legalized, free abortion, in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

"It cannot be that women are taken to jail for having an abortion. We believed in desired motherhood," Maite Orsini, of the leftist Democratic Revolution party, told reporters after presenting the bill.

She arrived in Congress sporting the green bandana that became a symbol of the abortion rights campaigners in Argentina.

A group of MPs wearing blue bandanas -- an emblem of the anti-abortion lobby -- said they would present a bill "to protect the life of the unborn" in the constitution.

"This is a sad day for Chile," said conservative deputy Juan Antonio Coloma, representing the so-called "Front for the Defense of Life."

The right-wing government of President Sebastian Pinera said an abortion law is not on its agenda.

"It is not part of the agenda, we do not identify it as a situation on which we have to focus, when there are priorities that are of greater importance to the population," said Health Minister Oscar Santelices.

Campaigners have been galvanized across Latin America after Argentine lawmakers approved a bill to decriminalize abortion, before the measure was voted down in the Senate earlier this month. Lawmakers will now have to wait a year to resubmit the legislation.

The leftist lawmakers lodged the bill in Congress almost exactly a year after legislation championed by former socialist president Michelle Bachelet removed Chile from a small group of countries where abortion is not allowed under any circumstances.

According to health ministry data, 359 abortions were carried out under the new law between September 2017 and July 16, 2018.