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Santiago, Chile — Voters are souring on Chile’s second, conservative-led attempt at drafting a new constitution as a bid to further tighten the country’s already restrictive abortion laws and other moves to the right threaten to turn off a majority of voters.

More than half of Chileans, 54% of respondents surveyed before the draft text was completed this week, plan on voting against the new constitution, according to pollster Cadem.

High rejection rates were attributed to disapproval of the proposed changes, distrust in councillors charged with the rewrite and other concerns including rising crime.

Catalina Lagos, a member of an expert commission that will review the draft starting Saturday, says the text “does not reflect Chilean society as a whole but only a political sector.”

Lagos says there is still time to moderate the proposed constitution and consultancy Teneo warned “the entire process could collapse” before the December referendum if the council refuses to accept the expert commission's changes.

A constituent council this time is dominated by more right-wing members after the first attempt was resoundingly rejected by Chileans in a September 2022 referendum.

The previous text, drawn up largely by left-wing candidates, would have been one of the world’s most progressive charters, but was similarly criticised for being unrepresentative of society as a whole.

The ideological back and forth suggests many Chileans are fundamentally uncomfortable with extremes on either side, less than two years into the presidency of left winger Gabriel Boric.

Lagos, who also helped draft the first attempt, says the pendulum has swung in the other direction.

The first rewrite had allowed “the voluntary interruption of a pregnancy.” The current proposal makes a grammatical change to a constitutional clause which abortion advocates already view as restrictive. It would refer to the unborn by a personal pronoun instead of the current impersonal one.

Councillor Antonio Barchiesi, from the hard-right Republican party, said “the legal scope of the current norm does not change,” but says the shift is to highlight that “there is someone” at the centre of the clause.

But Lagos says this change, combined with another proposal that would define a child as any human being under the age of 18, could clear the way for more restrictive abortion laws.

With abortion rights expanding across much of Latin America, the latest being Mexico and Argentina, supporters are worried that a right-wing resurgence in the region, could halt progress or see rights backslide.

At a rally commemorating the global day of action for access to safe and legal abortion last week in Santiago, 26-year-old student Isadora Calderón told Reuters she felt abortion rights were being threatened by the current proposals.

“If a party wants to write a constitution with certain guidelines, who says they won't do it down the line with laws,” Calderón said.

Agustina Ramón Michel, an Argentine lawyer at the Latin American consortium against unsafe abortion (Clacai), said other countries in the region are watching Chile closely.

“We are having a counter-reaction to the previous constitution, which many also said did not represent them, that it was too much going one way or another, and now we are having the opposite,” Ramón Michel said. 


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