Chile abortion bill: 'My pregnancy was torture'

By Jane Chambers

  • Published
Paola Valenzuela
Image caption,
Paola Valenzuela was not allowed to have an abortion even though the foetus was not viable

Paola Valenzuela was 40 years old when she found out she was pregnant with her second child.

"My husband and I were so excited about having another child and my son, who was nine at the time, was very happy about the idea of having a little brother," she recalls.

But when she went for her first scan, Ms Valenzuela was told the foetus was not developing properly. "It was a terrible blow for all of us," she says.

The doctor told her to wait to see if its condition improved but a second scan revealed that the baby had amniotic band syndrome, which can cause a number of different birth defects.

In the case of Ms Valenzuela's baby, his organs were growing outside of his body and he was covered in tumours.

She recalls how her husband asked how long the baby would live and how the doctor explained that there was no way he would survive outside the womb.

"I asked the doctor to help me have an abortion," Ms Venezuela says.

'Keep praying'

But Paola Valenzuela lives in Chile, one of seven countries in the world where abortion is completely banned.

Image caption,
Reproductive rights groups have been campaigning for a change in Chile's strict abortion law

The doctor told Ms Valenzuela that it was not legally possible to have an abortion and that she should keep praying.

Read more:

"My pregnancy was a terrible time for me and my family, they saw me suffering and they didn't know what to say. My son kept asking when his little brother was going to die, because he knew he could die at any time."

When she was 23 weeks pregnant, Ms Valenzuela's waters finally broke and she went to hospital.

She says that the first thing she asked when her baby was born was whether he was alive. "The nurses said no."

One of them asked Ms Valenzuela if she wanted to see the baby.

Knowing what she knew from the scan, she asked them to cover the baby's body with a blanket and to only leave his feet uncovered, which she knew to be unaffected.

"So I could say goodbye to his feet," she says. "Then they took him away and the next day we buried him," she adds with tears in her eyes.

'No more suffering'

Ms Valenzuela does not want any other women to go through what she experienced.

Image caption,
Ms Valenzuela has given testimony in favour of a change in the law so others "won't have to suffer"

That is why she is backing President Michelle Bachelet's drive to change Chile's laws to allow for abortions in the case of rape, if the mother's life is at risk or if the foetus will not survive the pregnancy.

Despite surveys showing that 70% of the population back the change, there has been stiff opposition from religious groups and right-wing sectors of society.

After two years of debate, the bill has now been approved by both houses of Congress.

But the country's constitutional court has yet to decide whether the bill is at odds with a provision in Chile's constitution which protects the life of the unborn.

A decision is expected on Friday.

The court has been hearing the testimony of activists from both sides, including Ms Valenzuela.

'Women need this law'

Coming out of the court surrounded by women from reproductive rights group Miles, Ms Valenzuela was smiling.

Image caption,
Members of reproductive rights group Miles have been vocal campaigners for the change in the law

"My heart is racing and I feel so nervous," she says before striking a more serious note.

"The other women who gave their testimonies in court and I have suffered a lot," she says.

"In my case I had to go through a pregnancy knowing that when my baby was born he would die" she says.

"We don't want other women to suffer like us."

Ms Valenzuela knows that not all Chileans agree with her.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Those opposed to lifting the total ban have also been campaigning

Religious groups determined to stop the law from going through have also been giving their testimonies before the court, arguing that all human life is sacred and should be protected by law.

But Ms Valenzuela is adamant that Chilean woman "need this law".

"It's not fair that we have to endure this unnecessary pain. Other women shouldn't have to go through the torture that I did."