Written by Daniel Politi
A vote to legalize abortion in Argentina was balanced on a knife’s edge Tuesday as the Senate debated a bill that would make this largely Catholic nation, homeland of Pope Francis, the largest in Latin America to take that step.
Legalization in Argentina would reverberate across a region where powerful forces oppose abortion, notably the long-dominant Roman Catholic Church and the fast-growing evangelical Protestant churches.
With the bill having cleared the lower house of Argentina’s Congress and the president vowing to sign it, all eyes were on the Senate, where its fate appears to rest in the hands of a handful of lawmakers who remain undecided or are keeping their positions under wraps.
As crowds on both sides of the issue gathered on the plaza and streets outside Congress, senators began debating the measure Tuesday afternoon, and the too-close-to-call vote was expected early Wednesday. The bill would allow abortion on request up to 14 weeks into pregnancy, with exceptions to the limit in cases of rape or health risk.
A growing and increasingly vocal feminist movement in Argentina and across Latin America known as Ni Una Menos, meaning not one woman less, has coalesced around the issues of abortion and violence against women, and has been the driving force behind the Argentine legalization movement. Adding fuel to that effort have been the waning influence of the church and the election last year of a center-left president, Alberto Fernández.
But the legalization movement still faces fierce opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical protestant churches. Pope Francis has spoken out against it, publicly praising a women’s group from impoverished neighborhoods for their activism against abortion.
Argentina would join Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana as the only countries in Latin America to allow abortion on request. Now, Argentina, like a number of other countries in the region, permits it in cases of rape or if pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s health; still other countries have stricter limits or total prohibitions.
Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies approved the abortion bill earlier this month, by a vote of 131-117.