SANTIAGO, Chile, March 18 (UPI) -- Lawmakers in Chile's lower house approved legislation to lift the country's abortion ban in cases of rape, health risks or when the fetus is not viable.
Thursday's decision -- backed by President Michelle Bachelet -- comes after two days of debate in Chile's lower house of Congress, and 26 years since General Augusto Pinochet enacted the ban. The proposal was approved by 66 to 44 votes, BBC reported.
The measure must till be approved by the Senate.
"This is historic. The chamber of deputies had brought down the last ideological wall of the dictatorship," the chamber's president, Marco Antonio Nuñez, said, according to Vice News.
Stemming from a predominantly Catholic background, Chile is one of seven countries in the region where abortion is completely banned in all cases alongside Malta, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Vatican City.
"This is an historic day. We see the political will to let women make their own decisions," lawmaker Karol Cariola of the Communist Party and Bachelet's coalition said.
The bill is now on its way to go before Chile's upper house, which holds a left-wing majority despite a mixed coalition with conservative senators.
"We believe it is a watershed moment in the lives of Chilean women," Claudia Dedes of the organization Miles Chile said to Vice. "Many women suffer torture having to risk their lives in clandestine abortions."
Claudia Nogueira of the conservative Independent Democratic Union part called the move a "step back for protection of the unborn ... but it is just one step."