The most important finding of a new analysis on clandestine abortion in Chile is just how little hard evidence actually exists on the topic. The new report, “Induced Abortion in Chile,” (en español) by Elena Prada, independent consultant, and Haley Ball of the Guttmacher Institute, documents major gaps in knowledge on the incidence and consequences of induced abortion, the characteristics of women seeking abortion and their reasons for doing so. The analysis also documents the lack of available information on contraceptive use, unintended pregnancy and other factors that influence the need for abortion.
It is widely agreed that Chilean women who resort to unsafe abortions, and who subsequently seek treatment for complications, tend to come from the country’s more disadvantaged groups. Poor Chilean women are thought to be the most likely to use unsafe abortion methods and the most likely to seek postabortion treatment in public health facilities. Poor women are also the most likely to be criminally prosecuted for seeking clandestine abortion services.
Chile is one of only a handful of countries around the world that prohibit induced abortion under any circumstances, including if a woman’s life is at risk. Informed debate on the impact of clandestine abortion on Chilean women and families is hindered by the lack of available data. Unlike many countries in the region, Chile does not have any large-scale studies like the Demographic and Health Surveys that would provide data to inform this issue.
The authors suggest that in addition to research directly focused on abortion, research on unintended pregnancy and unmet need for contraception is needed, both to contextualize women’s recourse to abortion and to help assess and improve women’s ability to plan the timing and number of their pregnancies. With this evidence in hand, policymakers and health care providers will be better able to devise sound policies and interventions that best promote the nation’s public health.