Published: Sat, August 11, 2018
Global | By Marsha Munoz

Argentina's Senate Rejects Legalizing Abortion, Dashing Hopes Of Rights Advocates

Argentina's Senate Rejects Legalizing Abortion, Dashing Hopes Of Rights Advocates

Argentina's Senate on Thursday rejected a bill to legalize elective abortion, a defeat for a grassroots movement that came closer than ever to achieving the decriminalization of the procedure in the homeland of Pope Francis.

The Catholic Church and others, including some physicians groups, strongly opposed the legislation, arguing it would violate Argentine law that guarantees life from the moment of conception.

There were 31 votes in favour - falling short of the 35-vote majority needed for bills to pass - and two abstentions.

Ahead of the Senate vote, President Mauricio Macri said he was personally against abortion, but added that the debate itself was "a win for democracy". Women who asked for an abortion would have had to wait no more than five days to get one.

In March, Francis sent a letter to the Argentine people urging them to "contribute to the defense of life and justice" as the abortion debate intensified.

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Many women in Argentina use misoprostol to end first-trimester pregnancies.

The Health Ministry estimated in 2016 that as many as half a million clandestine abortions are performed in the country each year, causing the deaths of dozens of women.

Uruguay and Cuba are the only Latin American countries that now have broadly legalized abortion.

Worldwide human rights and women's groups have been closely following the vote, and figures such as US actress Susan Sarandon and "The Handmaid's Tale" author Margaret Atwood supported the pro-abortion cause.

Demonstrations in support of the Argentine abortion bill were also held in countries such as Bolivia and Mexico. Currently, it is only possible if the fetus is deformed, the woman has been raped or if the woman's life is in danger.

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At the same time, Cardinal Poli called on Catholics to find space in their communities to allow pregnant women in difficulty "to share their fears and to feel the embrace and tenderness of women who had the joy of giving birth to a child, despite all difficulties".

"We're not deciding abortion yes or now. It doesn't reduce abortions - it just makes them unsafe", said Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty in an interview with the progressive UK Guardian last April.

When the result was told to the demonstrators - who were separated by police and riot fences - the pro-life camp set off fireworks in celebration, and the pro-choice side threw rocks and lit fires in protest.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said Argentina has a "historic opportunity" to protect the rights of women.

Tensions ran high during the legislative debate - which lasted well into the morning - with some members of the lower chamber being barred from the Argentine Senate and the vice president hurling insults at a senator.

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