- The Argentine Senate voted 38 to 31 against a proposed measure that would have legalized a woman’s right to seek an abortion into the 14th week of pregnancy.
- Argentine Senators announced the vote results after an impassioned debate that ran into the early hours of Thursday.
- Women in Argentina are currently only legally permitted to seek abortions in cases of rape or if the mother’s health is at risk.
- Uruguay and Cuba are the only Latin American countries that now have broadly legalized abortion.
Argentine senators rejected a bill to legalize abortion after an impassioned debate ran into the early hours of Thursday, pushing back against a groundswell of support from a surging abortion rights movement.
The Senate voted 38 to 31 against the proposed measure, which would have legalized a woman’s right to seek an abortion into the 14th week of pregnancy. The bill had narrowly passed in the lower house in July.
Families and clergy in baby-blue bandanas gathered outside the congressional palace as the result came in just before 3 a.m., waving Argentine flags in support of the Catholic Church’s anti-abortion stance in Pope Francis’ home country.
“What this vote showed is that Argentina is still a country that represents family values,” anti-abortion activist Victoria Osuna, 32, told Reuters.
Current Argentine law only permits abortions in cases of rape, or if the mother’s health is at risk.
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.”
Demonstrations outside Congress were largely peaceful, but small groups of protesters clashed with police following the results.
Some protesters through firebombs and set up flaming barricades, according to the Associated Press. Police officers responded to the non-peaceful demonstrations with tear gas.
Uruguay and Cuba are the only Latin American countries that now have broadly legalized abortion.
In Brazil, the Supreme Court is set to consider whether current law, which allows terminating pregnancies only in cases of rape, fetal deformation or when the mother’s life is in danger, is unconstitutional.
But passing a pro-abortion law will face hurdles in Brazil’s increasingly conservative Congress, with a growing Evangelical Christian caucus that is staunchly opposed.
Women’s rights advocates, however, hope that a more liberal judiciary in Brazil will at least decriminalize abortion to help avoid deaths from botched terminations in a country where hundreds of thousands of women resort to clandestine clinics each year.
Ahead of the Senate vote in Argentina, President Mauricio Macri called the debate “a win for democracy.” Macri said he was personally against abortion, but would sign the bill if it passed.
“Regardless of the result, today, democracy wins,” Macri said ahead of the vote.
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, with dozens of women dying each year as a result.
Activists have estimated that since 1983, at more than 3,000 women in the country have died of illegal abortions.
The move to legalize abortion in Argentina is a “public health and human rights imperative,” said New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“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.”
Pope Francis, who is from Argentina, denounced abortion earlier this year, calling it the “white glove” equivalent of the Nazi-era eugenics program. He urged families to “accept the children that God gives to them.”
Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.
The movement Ni Una Menos, or Not One Less, was launched in the country in recent years to fight violence against women.
(Reporting by Scott Squires; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Diane Craft and Clarence Fernandez)