Chile's parliament on Tuesday postponed a vote on a long-awaited bill to legalise same-sex marriage and shelved another to decriminalise abortion.
In a frustrating day for activists, the bill on gay marriage was sent back to legislators to iron out disagreements on the day many had hoped it would finally be passed.
And in a separate process, a bill that would allow elective abortion within 14 weeks of pregnancy was put on hold pending a further reworking of the text – effectively archiving it for a year.
Once adopted, the marriage law will see Chile join only a handful of countries in majority Catholic Latin America where same-sex couples can legally tie the knot – after Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina and in 14 of Mexico's 32 states.
It would also allow same-sex couples to adopt children.
After passing through the Chamber of Deputies earlier this month, a vote was scheduled for Tuesday in the upper house or Senate for the final green light – depending on approval from a parliamentary constitutional commission.
But instead of giving the go-ahead, that commission opted Tuesday to send the draft back to a committee of senators and lower house deputies – due to meet next Monday – to iron out differences of legal interpretation.
"There are some issues to correct but we have the firm conviction to approve it (the bill) although we have to be rigorous," lawmaker Alfonso Durresti told journalists.
The lawmakers will iron out legal technicalities concerning divorce and fertility treatment among other issues that touch on marriage rights.
"There is disappointment but at the same time hope continues," Javiera Zuniga of the Movilh LGBT rights activist group said of the delay.
The abortion bill, in turn, was shelved by parliament's lower house, which had already approved it in principle in September, to refine wording that remains in dispute.
Parliamentary rules dictate that the bill cannot come before the house again before a year has passed.
It also still has to be approved by the Senate.
"We will present it again and again, we will lose as many times as necessary to win a free, legal and free abortion for all women," said leftist MP Maite Orsini after Tuesday's setback.
"I don’t know when we will introduce it, but I promise we will do it as often as necessary."
The bill, submitted by opposition lawmakers in 2018, seeks to change the existing law which allows elective abortion only in three scenarios: when there is a threat to the life of the pregnant woman, if the foetus is unviable, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape.
These legal abortions represent only about three percent of the thousands of clandestine terminations taking place in the country, according to activists.
In Latin American abortion is legal only in Uruguay, Cuba, Argentina – since January – and Guyana, as well as in Mexico City and three Mexican states.
It is banned in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and most other countries allow it only for medical reasons or in case of rape.
Chile maintained an outright ban on the procedure until 2017.
The country legalised same-sex civil unions in 2015, and has been eagerly awaiting the legalisation of gay marriage since then-president Michelle Bachelet sent a bill to Congress in 2017.
In a surprise move, her conservative successor, Sebastián Piñera, announced in June he would seek the urgent passage of the bill – which has the backing of a majority of Chileans – through Congress.
The project has been consistently opposed by the most conservative bloc of Chile's ruling right wing, but has nevertheless obtained a majority "yes" vote at every step of the process in an opposition-dominated congress.
The issue deeply divides the two candidates headed for a presidential run-off on December 19.
Gabriel Boric, 35, who represents a leftist alliance that includes the Communist Party, supported the bill and voted "yes" in his capacity as lawmaker.
But 55-year-old, far-right candidate José Antonio Kast, who won 28 percent of first-round votes compared to Boric's 26 percent, campaigned against it.
by Alberto Peña, AFP