SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) — Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago, president of the Chilean bishops’ conference, expressed his concern about a presidential plan to decriminalize abortion in Chile.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet made the announcement during her May 21 speech in Valparaiso, an opportunity traditionally used as a state of the nation address.

“We usually hear in the news about women who are having underground abortions, which are life-threatening,” Bachelet said.


“Chile must face this reality, in a mature, informed and propositional discussion, and debate in the National Congress a law project to decriminalize the voluntary interruption of pregnancy in cases of rape, risk of the mother’s life and unviability of the fetus,” added the president, who began her second term March 11.

Cardinal Ezzati, who was invited to the traditional speech, said Chile’s bishops have been “crystal clear about this: Life is the fundamental value, and it’s the value that must be truly protected, in every case.”

Referring to another presidential announcement, a national sterilization program for companion animals, he said sometimes people are more worried about the welfare of domestic animals than the lives of people.

“With all due respect for the pets, I believe human people, human life is much more worthy than that of a pet,” he said.

Chile’s total ban on abortion was established in 1989, during the last year of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Several attempts to change the law have failed.

Under Chilean law, a woman could be punished with five years in prison for having an abortion. A doctor or midwife who performs an abortion could face 10 years in jail.

The Chilean Institute of Molecular Epidemiology says more than 8,000 abortions are performed in Chile each year.

The government spokesman, Alvaro Elizalde, said that the legislation will be presented during the next session of the congress.