October 23, 2017
Demonstrators in Chile on the day the court eased restrictions, photo courtesy of Professor Jorge Contesse.

Chile – which was one of seven countries with a total ban on abortion – recently eased its restrictions and will allow abortion if the woman’s life is at risk, if the pregnancy is a result of rape, or if the fetus will not survive.

This summer, the Chilean Constitutional Court heard from more than 130 organizations and individuals on the issue. Rutgers Law Professor Jorge Contesse, an expert in international human rights law, submitted an amicus brief to the court, co-authored with NYU Law Professor José Alvarez.

Contesse and Alvarez worked with attorneys from the New York-based law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, urging the Constitutional Court to use legal precedents from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

 The brief, Contesse explained, “Analyzed how both domestic and international courts treat international judicial decisions as a sort of binding precedent. We asked the Constitutional Court to reject the claim whereby using a decision from the Inter-American Court against a third country was impermissible.”  In a 2012 judgment against Costa Rica, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that states may impose limitations to the right to life.

Chile was one of a handful of countries in the world where abortion was illegal without exception. The country’s President, Michelle Bachelet, who also served as Head of UN Women, introduced a bill to loosen the ban in January 2015.

“Although this s just a start, it is a huge victory for the women’s movement in Chile,” Contesse said. “And like other tribunals in Latin America, the Chilean Constitutional Court engaged with international human rights precedents, despite the fact that several precedents may come from cases where the country has not been a party.”

All amicus briefs (in Spanish) can be found here. Professors Alvarez’s and Contesse’s brief is Number 46.

Rutgers Law Media Contacts:
Mike Sepanic (Camden); Elizabeth Moore (Newark)

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