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  • Anti-abortion rights activists celebrate as lawmakers vote against a bill legalizing abortion, in Buenos Aires, Argentina Aug. 9, 2018.

    Anti-abortion rights activists celebrate as lawmakers vote against a bill legalizing abortion, in Buenos Aires, Argentina Aug. 9, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 August 2018

After a close vote during a marathon session at the country's senate, the bill was rejected amid massive protests by women activists. 

Argentina’s Senate rejected a bill Thursday seeking to legalize abortion and threw out an initiative already approved by the deputies, amid a wide controversy that divided the country for months.

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The bill, which had 38 votes against and 31 in favor, guaranteed the possibility of aborting up to week 14 of pregnancy within the public health system for free, something that is currently allowed only in cases of rape and risk to the pregnant.

The Chamber of Deputies approved the bill in June, with votes from different political parties, but after the rejection of the Senate - where there is a predominance of representatives of provinces with strong influence of the Catholic Church - the project lost its validity.

"The Senate rejected the voluntary interruption of pregnancy bill by 38 votes against, 31 in favor, 2 abstentions and 1 absent. The fight will continue in the streets because sooner or later the #AbortoLegal (legal abortion)"

The initiative generated division in society and within the main political parties of the country.

This was evident on Wednesday, when a large number of protesters with green handkerchiefs, symbolizing the defense of the legalization of abortion, occupied the streets around the Congress despite the rain. A few meters away, a crowd with blue kerchiefs asked the Senate not to approve the project.

Abortion rights supporters, clad in green bandanas that have become a symbol of the movement, danced to drum lines and swarmed the city’s streets to the end, despite a biting wind and cold rain.

Many had camped in front of Argentina's National Congress since Wednesday night. "I’m still optimistic. It didn’t pass today, but it will pass tomorrow, it will pass the next day," said abortion rights supporter Natalia Carol, 23. "This is not over."

The debate was intense within the Congress, where critics of the legalization of abortion argued for defending human life from its conception, at times with extreme positions.

"There are some cases in which rape does not have the classic configuration of violence against women (...) for example in intra-family abuse, where you can not talk about violence," said Rodolfo Urtubey, a senator from the northern province. of Salta, to justify his position against legal abortion.

The promoters of the rule argued that clandestine abortions are the main cause of maternal mortality in Argentina and that low-income women are the most exposed to performing these procedures in unhealthy conditions.

"Legal, safe and free abortion is the only way to end the death of more women with unwanted pregnancies," opposition senator Pedro Guastavino, from the province of Entre Ríos, said on Wednesday.

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Within Latin America, only Cuba and Uruguay allow women to decide on the termination of pregnancy and where its covered under the public health system.

Argentina's abortion rights movement, backed by feminist groups galvanized in recent years to stop violence against women, argued that the bill would end unregulated abortions that government data show as the leading cause of maternal deaths.

There are at least 350,000 illegal abortions in Argentina every year, the Ministry of Health estimates, though international human rights groups say the number may be higher.

"Just because the bill got shot down, it will not stop the movement," said Paula Avila-Guillen, a director of Women's Equality Center, an abortion rights advocacy group. "We will be there at the next legislative opportunity."


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