Article Text

Download PDFPDF
A critical review of conscientious objection and decriminalisation of abortion in Chile
  1. Adela Montero1,2,
  2. Raúl Villarroel2
  1. 1 Faculty of Medicine, Center for Reproductive Medicine and Integral Adolescent Development, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile
  2. 2 Faculty of Philosophy and Humanities, Center for Studies in Applied Ethics, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile
  1. Correspondence to Professor Adela Montero, Faculty of Medicine, Center for Reproductive Medicine and Integral Adolescent Development, University of Chile, Santiago 8380000, Chile; amontero{at}


From 1989 through September 2017, Chile’s highly restrictive abortion laws exposed women to victimisation and needlessly threatened their health, freedom and even lives. However, after decades of unsuccessful attempts to decriminalise abortion, legislation regulating pregnancy termination on three grounds was recently enacted. In the aftermath, an aggressive conservative drive designed to turn conscientious objection into a pivotal new obstacle, mounted during the congressional debate, has led to extensive, complex arguments about the validity and legitimacy of conscientious objection. This article offers a critical review of the emergence of conscientious objection and its likely policy and ethical implications. It posits the need to regulate conscientious objection through checks and balances designed to keep it from being turned into an ideological barrier meant to hinder women’s access to critical healthcare.

  • conscientious objection
  • civil disobedience
  • abortion
  • sexual and reproductive rights

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors AM and RV as authors of this paper certify that we have contributed directly to the intellectual realization of this manuscript and we are responsible for its contents. The participation of each author is detailed below: AM participated in the génesis, design, writing, analysis, interpretation of the contents, incorporation of the suggestions and bibliographical search. RV participated in the design, writing, analysis, interpretation of the contents and critical revision of the manuscript.

  • Funding This article draws on the theoretical framework and preliminary results of the research project entitled “Professional and institutional rights and obligations and the role of the State: Conscientious objection in the context of the voluntary termination of pregnancy on three specific grounds in Chile”, funded by the Science and Technology Development Fund (FONDECYT) of National Science and Technology Research Commission (CONICYT). Ministry of Education, Government of Chile. 1160602

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.