SANTIAGO, Chile – Chilean lawmakers have approved a bill that would legalize abortion in limited circumstances and end the socially conservative country's status as the last in South America with a blanket ban on the procedure.
The measure approved late Wednesday allows abortions when a woman's life is in danger, when a fetus is not viable and in cases of rape. President Michelle Bachelet, a physician and former head of U.N. Women, backs the bill and has said she will sign it into law.
It must still be approved by the Constitutional Tribunal, however, and opposition senators argue that the measure violates the constitution.
Chile legalized abortion for medical reasons in 1931, but the procedure was then banned under all circumstances during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
The bill's passage comes as views continue to shift on social issues once considered taboo in the heavily Roman Catholic nation.
Chile only began to allow divorce in 2004. In 2015, Congress recognized civil unions for same-sex couples. And recently it became the first country in Latin America to allow the sale of cannabis-based medicines at pharmacies.
Chile is one of four countries that currently prohibit abortion in all cases, according to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, though a handful of others have rules so restrictive that they amount to de facto bans.
Women who get abortions in Chile are subject to up to five years in jail, as are medical personnel who assist with the procedure. By law, hospitals are obligated to report suspected abortions to police.