Argentina Senate Rejects Abortion Bill Following Heated Debate

Argentina Senate Rejects Abortion Bill Following Heated Debate

Argentina Senate Rejects Abortion Bill Following Heated Debate

Argentina's Senate on Wednesday began debating a bill that would legalize elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy in the homeland of Pope Francis, setting up a vote that could reverberate around the region.

After a 15-hour debate, 31 senators voted in favour and 38 voted against a bill legalising abortion in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.

Opponents of the bill celebrated the decision on the streets outside Congress with fireworks as they waved Argentine flags.

A small number of pro-abortion rights protestors lit fires and threw rocks and bottles at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

"We are happy because it is a celebration of democracy, the triumph of both lives", said Ayelen Caffarena, echoing the campaign's slogan, "save both lives", a reference to the mother as well as the unborn child.

The lower house of Congress had already passed the measure and President Mauricio Macri had said he would sign it.

Natalia Carol, a 23-year-old supporter of legalized abortion, said she is "still optimistic".

Abortion is now a criminal offense in Argentina except in cases of rape, risk to the life of the mother, or when the baby is thought to be inviable outside the womb.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said Argentina had a "historic opportunity" to protect the rights of women. The Health Ministry estimated in 2016 that the country sees as many as a half million clandestine abortions each year.

A legalization bill can not be debated again until next year, but Macri's government is expected to include a provision to decriminalize abortion when it introduces legislation later this month for overhauling the penal code.

The debate in the Senate went on for more than 16 hours and was reportedly very passionate at times.

"Today I feel like never before that I'm part of a wide sector of our people who defend life in general, from the moment of conception and until death", she said. While abortion-rights activists chanted "legal abortion at the hospital", the Catholic Church held a "Mass for Life", said the CNN.

On the day before the vote, Amnesty International ran an advertisement in the New York Times depicting a white hanger under the phrase "Adiós", or "Goodbye" in Spanish, telling the Argentinian Senate that the world was watching them.

Dueling rallies have descended on Buenos Aires in recent days, with backers of legalization donning their distinctive green bandannas and its opponents responding with blue scarves of their own.

The Catholic Church and Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina, pushed back.

If the bill should overcome its long odds and gain passage, it will place Argentina in some rare company among traditionally conservative Latin American countries, joining Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana as the few to legalize elective abortion.

In testimony before Congress, Duro emphasized that "legal abortion also kills", adding that it doesn't solve maternal mortality.

Chile a year ago became the last nation in South America to drop a ban on abortions in all cases, though several countries in Central America still have absolute prohibitions.

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