Argentina’s senators reject measure to legalise abortion

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Argentina’s Senate has rejected a bill to legalise elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, an issue that has divided the homeland of Pope Francis.

Politicians debated for more than 15 hours and voted 38-31 against the bill.

The decision could echo across Latin America, where the Roman Catholic Church has lost influence and moral authority due to secularisation, an out-of-touch clerical caste and an avalanche of sex abuse scandals.

For long hours, thousands of supporters wearing green handkerchiefs that represent the effort to legalise abortion and opponents of the measure, wearing light blue, braved the heavy rain and cold temperatures in Argentina’s winter to watch the debate on large screens set up outside Congress.

Argentina Abortion
Pro-choice activists react after politicians voted against the bill (Natacha Pisaranko/AP)

Police officers responded with tear gas.

The lower house had already passed the measure and conservative President Mauricio Macri had said that he would sign it, even though he is anti-abortion.

In Argentina, abortion is only allowed in cases of rape and risks to a woman’s health.

Thousands of women, most of them poor, are taken to hospital each year for complications linked due to unsafe abortions, the main cause of maternal death.

Backers of the measure said legalising abortion would save the life of many women who now turn to dangerous illegal abortions.

Argentina Abortion
A woman in support of decriminalising abortion spreads coloured smoke (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

The Catholic Church and other groups opposed it, saying it violated Argentine law, which guarantees life from the moment of conception.

“There are positive points that have come out of this, first of all, that even when there are differing ways of thinking, there’s a square in peace right now, with thousands of people defending their convictions,” said Buenos Aires provincial Governor Maria Eugenia Vidal, who was against the measure.

“There was talk of a green square and a light blue square.

“But the truth is that these are people who are right there next to each other, coexisting and defending what they believe to be the truth.”

Argentina Abortion
Demonstrators celebrate the decision by the senate (Luisa Balaguer/AP)

While thousands of people waited for the decision on the streets guarded by umbrellas, others gathered Wednesday night at a Mass For Life at the capital city’s Metropolitan Cathedral, the church of Pope Francis during his tenure as the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Caring for life is the first human right and the duty of the State

Argentina Abortion
Protesters demonstrate in support of loosening the abortion law, left, and against abortion, right (Delfina Linares/AP)

“Caring for life is the first human right and the duty of the State.”

Pope Francis this year had denounced abortion as the “white glove” equivalent of the Nazi-era eugenics programme and urged families “to accept the children that God gives them”.

Activists estimate that 3,000 women in Argentina have died of illegal abortions since 1983.

“Let’s recognise that we’re facing a public health tragedy because 3,030 women who have died is a tragedy,” said Magdalena Odarda, a senator for Rio Negro province.

“We’re not deciding abortion yes or no.

“We’re deciding abortion in a hospital, or illegal abortion, with a clothes hanger, or anything else that puts a woman in a humiliating, degrading situation, a real torture,” she said.

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