BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (BBC)–December 29th, 2020–Argentina’s Congress has legalized abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, a ground-breaking move for a region that has some of the world’s most restrictive pregnancy termination laws.
Senators voted in favor of the bill after a marathon session with 38 in favor, 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, had opposed the move, calling on senators to reject the bill supported by center-left President Alberto Fernández.
Pro-choice activists hope the passing of the law in Argentina – one of the largest and most influential countries in Latin America – will inspire other countries to follow suit.
Large crowds of campaigners both for and against abortion had gathered outside Congress in the capital Buenos Aires, following the debate on huge screens.
When the vote finally happened in the early hours of Wednesday, there was jubilation in the pro-choice camp.
While Argentina’s powerful Catholic Church, and its growing evangelical community, put up strong opposition against this bill, it was Argentina’s mighty “green wave” women’s movement that has been at the forefront of this change.
A grassroots feminist movement that has grown in influence in the past few years, its campaigning prevailed, overturning a law that had been in place since 1921.
What has happened in Argentina has been closely watched across the region.
With Argentina now legalizing abortion up to 14 weeks, activists in major neighbors like Chile and Brazil will no doubt use this precedent to help their cause in rewriting the law in their countries and allow broader reproductive rights in a region known for tough restrictions on abortion.
Activists have campaigned for a change in the law for years. The passing came two years after senators narrowly voted against legalizing 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”.
The vote had been predicted to be extremely tight but, in the end,, all four senators who had said they were undecided voted in favor of the legislation after a 12-hour debate.
The director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, said that he thought that the new law “could have a domino effect in the region”.