In July, a harrowing story dominated headlines in Chile: "Belen," an 11-year-old girl from the southern city of Puerto Montt, had been raped and impregnated by her mother's partner—and was not legally permitted to have an abortion. Belen vowed on television to have the baby. Chile's president praised her "depth and maturity." Outraged pro-abortion activists ransacked a cathedral in the capital, Santiago.
Now, four months later, the country is once again at a crossroads on abortion. On November 17, for the first time in history, Chileans will cast ballots in a presidential election where the top two candidates are women—not to mention childhood playmates with a turbulent past. And the outcome of the race could have major implications for reproductive rights in one of the few countries in the world where getting an abortion can still land you in jail.
The frontrunner in the contest, Michelle Bachelet, is a pediatrician-turned-Socialist Party politician and former president, while her most formidable challenger, Evelyn Matthei, is an economist belonging to the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI). They’re childhood friends whose fathers, both air force generals, were stationed at the same base in the desert of northern Chile in the 1950s (the two girls could often be spotted running around and biking together). In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet’s CIA-backed coup ousted the democratically elected Salvador Allende, and placed Bachelet and Matthei on opposite sides of the country’s bitter political divide.