Debevoise Advises the Center for Reproductive Rights in a Historic Case Before Chile’s Constitutional Court

31 August 2017

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP advised the Center for Reproductive Rights in a historic case before Chile’s Constitutional Court that resulted in a decision upholding President Michelle Bachelet’s bill to decriminalize abortion under certain circumstances.

Until this decision, Chile was one of only five countries in the world prohibiting abortion under any circumstances. A total ban had been in place since 1989. In 2016, President Bachelet introduced a bill decriminalizing abortion under three circumstances, namely when: (i) a woman’s life is in danger; (ii) a fetus is unviable; or (iii) a pregnancy results from rape. On 3 August, the Chilean Congress approved the bill but the opposition moved to block the bill on constitutional grounds.

Alongside the Center for Reproductive Rights, Professors Jorge Contesse and José Enrique Alvarez, Debevoise presented an amici brief in Spanish to the Constitutional Court on 11 August. The team’s brief explained the relevance of international human rights case law and the pivotal role of international courts in guiding domestic courts to decide important legal questions, including those stemming from Chile’s international obligations under international human rights treaties.

After a three-day hearing with 135 NGOs, representatives of the civil society and members of the government, on 21 August the Constitutional Court voted six to four to allow abortion in the three circumstances covered by the legislation being challenged: rape; if the fetus is not viable; or if the mother’s life is at risk. The Court accepted one of the opposition’s arguments, i.e., that a doctor can refuse to provide an abortion under these circumstances based on a moral objection. In that case, the woman would be able to go to a different doctor.

The Debevoise team was led by New York partner Dietmar Prager, and included associates Thomas Norgaard and Sarah Lee in New York, associate Camilla Gambarini in London, and former International associate Daniela Pérez.

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