April 5, 2008 / 12:03 AM / 12 years ago

Court blocks Chile move on morning-after pill

SANTIAGO, April 4 (Reuters) - Chile’s top constitutional court on Friday blocked a government bid to promote the free distribution of the morning-after pill to minors aged 14 and over, dealing a new setback to President Michelle Bachelet.

The Constitutional Tribunal, which has the last word in Chile on constitutional law, overruled a decree signed by Bachelet over a year ago that authorized the free distribution of the contraceptive to children 14 and above. The children needed a doctor’s prescription but did not require parental consent.

Right-wing opponents of the center-left president petitioned the court, arguing the pill was tantamount to abortion — which is illegal in Chile.

The morning-after pill has been available in Chile for six years, but Bachelet’s government wanted to make it available free of cost so it is more accessible to the country’s poor.

It says that more than 1,000 girls under age 15 give birth each year and that tens of thousands of babies are born to mothers under the age of 20. The Health Ministry estimates the annual number of illegal abortions in Chile at 150,000. Chile has a population of about 16 million.

"This means going back to square one, this means only women with money will be able to buy the pill, and that bothers the government and the immense majority of the country," government spokesman Francisco Vidal told reporters.

Abortion in Chile was made illegal under any circumstances at the end of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The ruling was the second setback for Bachelet’s government in as many days.

Education Minister Yasna Provoste was suspended by the lower house of Congress on Thursday pending a probe into corruption on her watch. (Reporting by Rodrigo Martinez; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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