Chilean lawmakers approved a bill that would legalize abortion in limited circumstances. If approved by Chile's courts, the law would end the socially conservative country's status as the last place in South America where abortion is illegal without exceptions.
The measure approved late Wednesday would allow 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.
The bill 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 four decades later, the procedure was banned under all circumstances during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who was in power from 1973 to 1990.
The bill's passage comes as views continue to shift on social issues once considered taboo in the heavily Roman Catholic nation.
Under current law, women who undergo abortions in Chile are subject to up to five years in jail. Medical personnel who assist with the procedure are also at risk of going to jail for five years. By law, hospitals are obligated to report suspected abortions to the authorities.
If the measure lawmakers approved Wednesday becomes law, it would represent a huge step forward for reproductive rights in the country.