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Argentine Senate rejects historic abortion law

Updated: 2018-08-09 14:19
Anti-abortion rights activists celebrate lawmakers voted against a bill legalizing abortion, in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 9, 2018.[Photo/Agencies]

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Argentina's Senate has rejected a bill to legalize elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The issue has divided the homeland of Pope Francis. Lawmakers debated for more than 15 hours and voted Thursday 31 in favor to 38 against.

Crowds of supporters and opponents of the measure braved the heavy rain to watch the debate on large screens set up outside Congress.

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

Argentina now allows the procedure only in cases of rape or risks to a woman's health, and activists say 3,000 women have died of illegal abortions since 1983. Opponents, meanwhile, insist life begins at conception and complain the bill could force doctors to perform the procedure even when they believe it is hazardous.

The issue has bitterly divided Argentines, pitting conservative doctors and the Roman Catholic Church against feminist groups and other physicians.

Hundreds of doctors have staged anti-abortion protests, in one case laying their white medical coats on the ground outside the presidential palace. Feminist groups, in turn, have held demonstrations in support of the measure, often wearing green that symbolizes their movement or costumes based on author Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale."

Daiana Anadon, leader of the feminist group Wave, said she and hundreds of other women would stay "until the final moment because we believe the power of the street will move the situation."

During the debate, Sen. Mario Fiad called abortion a "tragedy and said he opposed the legislation, arguing it is unconstitutional and violates international treaties.

"The right to life is about to become the weakest of rights," said Fiad.

Opposition Sen. Pedro Guastavino said he was initially against the proposal but changed his mind after coming to understand that illegal abortions put lives at risk.

"The only way to understand this is through the point of view of public health," he said.

Abortion rights activists gather as lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill legalizing abortion, in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 8, 2018.[Photo/Agencies]

International human rights and women's groups were following the vote, and figures such as US actress Susan Sarandon and Canadian author Atwood supported the pro-abortion cause in Argentina.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said Argentina had a "historic opportunity" to protect the rights of women. Amnesty International told Argentine legislators that "the world is watching."

Catholic and evangelical groups protested abortion with the slogan, "Argentina, filicide (child murder) will be your ruin."

Women's movements across South America have been pushing against decades-old abortion prohibitions.

In neighboring Brazil, supporters and opponents of abortion recently testified before the Supreme Federal Tribunal in an extraordinary session on whether to allow elective abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In Brazil, which is home to the world's largest population of Catholics and fast-growing evangelical faiths, abortion carries a punishment of up to three years in prison. There are three exceptions: if a woman is raped, pregnancy puts her life in danger, or a fetus is brain-dead.

Chile's Constitutional Court last year upheld legislation ending the Andean nation's absolute ban on abortions, permitting the procedure when a woman's life is in danger, when a fetus is not viable or in cases of rape.

Demonstrations in support of the Argentine abortion measure were held Wednesday in Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and Ecuador.

AP

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