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How Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalise abortion

How Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalise abortion

The Argentine Senate voted 38 to 29 in favour of legalising elective abortion on December 30.

Argentina’s Congress has legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, a ground-breaking move for a region that has some of the world’s most restrictive termination laws.

Senators voted in favour of the bill after a marathon session with 38 in favour, 29 against and one abstention.

Until now, abortions were only permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was at risk.

The bill had been approved by the Chamber of Deputies earlier this month.

The Catholic Church, which remains highly influential in Latin America, has opposed the move, urging senators to reject the bill backed by centre-left President Alberto Fernández.

Pro-choice activists hope that the passage of the law in Argentina, one of the largest and most influential countries in the region, will inspire other countries to follow suit.

Large crowds of campaigners both for and against abortion gathered outside Congress in the capital Buenos Aires after a debate on huge screens.

When the vote finally took place in the early hours of Wednesday morning, there was jubilation in the pro-abortion camp.

Long fought for change

Activists have campaigned for a change in the law for years. The passing came two years after senators narrowly voted against legalising abortion.

President Fernández had made reintroducing it one of his campaign promises. “I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone,” he argued.

The president also said providing free and legal abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy was a matter of public health as “every year around 38,000 women” are taken to hospital due to clandestine terminations and that “since the restoration of democracy [in 1983] more than 3,000 have died”.

Alongside the legalisation of abortion, the senators also voted for a bill called the “Thousand-Day Plan”, which would provide better health care for pregnant women and mothers of young children.

After the vote, President Fernandez tweeted, “Today we are a better society that extends women’s rights and guarantees public health care.”

Wilma Ibarra, who drafted the bill, was troubled with emotion when she spoke to reporters after it was passed. “Never again will a woman be killed in a clandestine abortion,” she said, crying.

Abortions are completely banned in El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and only allowed in certain restricted circumstances in most other Latin American nations.

In the wider region, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and parts of Mexico currently allow women to request an abortion, with varying limits on the number of weeks of pregnancy in which an abortion is legal.

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