Argentina’s lower house of Congress on Friday approved a bill to legalize elective abortion to the 14th week of pregnancy, sending the proposal to the Senate, which rejected a similar bill two years ago.
The draft bill was passed with 131 votes in favor, 117 against and six abstentions. The bill still needs approval from the country’s Senate in a debate expected before the end of 2020.
Argentine law currently only allows abortions when there is a serious risk to the health of the mother or in the event of rape. Women who have an abortion, as well as those who assist them, can face prosecution.
If passed, those below the age of 16 would also be allowed to exercise “their rights through their legal representatives” and seek “legal assistance” in cases of “conflict of interest.”
Tight vote expected at Senate
Friday’s approval follows more than a decade of campaigning by the National Campaign for the Right to Free and Safe Legal Abortion.
Hundreds of protesters had spent the night outside of the congress building in the capital, Buenos Aires, calling for the decriminalization of abortion.
Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the government’s women, gender and diversity minister, called the lower house’s approval a “fundamental step and recognition of a long struggle that women’s movements have been carrying out in our country for years.”
“We are going to continue working so that the voluntary termination of pregnancy becomes law,” Alcorta said after the vote.
However, many women’s rights activists are concerned that an even tighter vote can be expected at the Senate , a traditionally more conservative chamber.
Roman Catholic Church condemns decision
Ahead of the debate, which extended from Thursday into Friday morning, the Roman Catholic Church had urged legislators for “a second of reflection on what respect for life means.”
Lawmakers from several parties have argued that abortions would be a violation of the American Convention on Human Rights, and that the right to life should be safeguarded by law, “in general, from the moment of conception.”
Rights group Amnesty International, however, lauded the lower house vote and appealed to the Senate not to “turn its back” on women.
According to the government, several thousand women seeking abortions have died during clandestine abortion procedures in Argentina since 1983. Around 38,000 women are hospitalized every year in the South American country after undergoing unsafe abortion procedures.
Mexico City, Cuba and Uruguay are among the few places in Latin America where women can undergo abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy regardless of the circumstances.
Before being elected a year ago, center-left President Alberto Fernandez had vowed to push for making abortion voluntary and cost-free as part of efforts to provide women with access to “comprehensive health.”
Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia said Friday’s approval showed that Argentina was “moving forward.”
“If this were a masculine problem it would have been resolved a long time ago,” Garcia said.
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