Michelle Bachelet Proposes Lifting Chile’s Total Abortion Ban

Chilean President Michele Bachelet (Slate)

Chilean President Michele Bachelet (Slate)

Late last month, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet proposed lifting her country’s total abortion ban.

Chile is one of seven Latin American countries to completely ban abortion. Bachelet’s bill allows for the measure in case of rape, or if the mother and/or baby are at risk of dying during the pregnancy. The procedure would be allowed up until the 12th week (3rd month) of pregnancy, or until the 18th week for girls younger than 14 years of age. Girls ages 14 to 17 would need their parents’ permission for the procedure.

Abortion has been outlawed in Chile since 1989, imposed under former dictator Augusto Pinochet during his rule. Anyone breaking this law faces up to five years in jail. (Before the ban, abortions were allowed in extenuating circumstances.) Twelve bills decriminalizing the procedure have been proposed since 1991, but none (so far) have passed through the country’s Congress.

The measure would cut down the number of women taking chances on risky, “back-street” abortions detrimental to their health. A “Reuters” estimate puts the number of illegal abortions between 15K and 160K. (Since the numbers would have to be self-reported in this case, it’s difficult to get an accurate count.)

According to an interview in Spanish newspaper “El Pais,” Bachelet was originally planning on proposing the bill in late 2014.

Bachelet faces opposition from anti-abortion activists, and from UDI, the opposing political party. Culturally, the country is also very socially conservative, owing to a large Catholic stronghold. But despite this, recent public polls found that 70% of Chileans support the bill.

This isn’t the first time Bachelet has worked to reform family planning: In her first term as president (2006-2010), she made the morning-after pill free in government hospitals available to women ages 14 and older, with parental consent unneeded.

This is one time where I think having a politician make laws about women’s bodies could work: In addition to being a woman, Bachelet is also a registered pediatrician. #FemaleLeadersKnowBest

Dr. Carl Djerassi, Father of The Pill, Has Died

Dr. Carl Djerassi (Rutgers News)

Dr. Carl Djerassi (Rutgers News)

Modern contraception pioneer Dr. Carl Djerassi died last Friday in San Francisco. He was 91 years old, and had suffered from complications of liver and bone cancer.

Often called the father of The Pill, Djerassi found an essential component of the now-common family planning product. In 1951, while working as a researcher at Syntex in Mexico City, he and two others successfully synthesized norethindrone, a progestin that later provided the base of the modern birth control pill. Djerassi and his team received a patent for their discovery.

Initially, the scientists thought that norethindrone would help fertility, but they soon realized that it served another purpose. The team knew that progesterone inhibited ovulation during pregnancy. They modified the progestin’s basic structure and added ethisterone, a compound thought to be devoid of medical value. (Warning: science-speak ahead.)

Djerassi’s team found that they could change the structure of progesterone to increase its potency eightfold. This progesterone analogue was strong enough to work when injected, but lost its potency when administered orally…Djerassi’s group made the same chemical modification in ethisterone that they had earlier made in progesterone.

(Interesting side note: At the time, Djerassi wasn’t researching anything to do with conception when he and his team made his famous discovery. He was actually looking for a compound that could be used to treat cancer. Happy accident, as they say.)

After five years of clinical trials, the birth control pill began reached the mass market, and cracked 1960s sexual norms wide open. (And we’re still feeling the effects of it today.)

This wasn’t his only big discovery: Djerassi also patented the first antihistamine, the drug that prevents allergy symptoms.

During his lifetime, Djerassi received 34 honorary doctorates. He was also the recipient of the National Medal of Science for chemistry in 1973, and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1991. The two awards are the U.S.’s highest science and technology honors, respectively.

In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Djerassi also wrote plays (some performed off-Broadway) and science-fiction, founded a company to control insect growth, and started an artists’ colony in his property in California.

Dr. Djerassi’s contributions to family planning were, and continue to be, a boon to women the world over, and his work will continue to hold great value for the coming generations.

Thank you, Dr. Djerassi. Thank you.