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In Chile, free morning-after pills to teens

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This month, Chile began to combat the problem of high teen-pregnancy rates by distributing free morning-after pills to girls as young as 14 years old.

Government support of emergency contraception is not unusual in Latin America or in Europe. Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of morning-after pills (known as Plan B), for women over 18. Girls age 17 and under must have a doctor's note.

But the Chilean government, by giving away the pills to such young girls, is igniting a storm of opposition from critics who say it undermines parents and is tantamount to abortion.

On Sept. 2, Chile's health minister, Maria Soledad Barria, announced the distribution of morning-after pills in public health clinics as part of a broader set of new regulations on fertility. Since then, the outcry has been building from religious groups, the political right, and even some of the government's own coalition partners in Congress. Many are up in arms about the measure, which they say encourages early sexual activity.

The Roman Catholic Church, long opposed to the use of emergency contraception, calls it a veiled form of abortion. Last week, Chile's Episcopal Conference released a statement in response to the government's new regulations, saying they were "reminiscent of public policies established in totalitarian regimes by which the State aimed to regulate the intimate lives of its citizens." The Chilean constitution forbids "doctrines against the family or those which advocate violence or a concept of society ... of a totalitarian character."


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