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Argentina Lawmakers Reject Bill to Legalize Abortion

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Argentina’s Senate has rejected a measure that would have legalized ending a pregnancy during the first 14 weeks for any reason.

The Senate voted against the measure 38 to 31 on Thursday. The proposal narrowly passed Argentina’s lower house in July.

President Mauricio Macri had promised to sign the bill if it passed, although he is against abortion. Macri called the debate “a win for democracy.”

The vote followed intense debate in the Senate that ran into the early morning. Supporters and opponents spent hours outside the Congress building in Buenos Aires to follow the debate.

Demonstrations were mostly peaceful. After the vote, small groups of protesters threw firebombs and set barricades on fire, the Associated Press reported. Police used tear gas to break up the crowd, but no injuries were reported.

Women in support of decriminalizing abortion protest in the rain outside Congress where lawmakers are debating the issue in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP)
Women in support of decriminalizing abortion protest in the rain outside Congress where lawmakers are debating the issue in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP)

The bill was supported by several women’s groups and a growing abortion rights movement. The Roman Catholic Church is still strong in Argentina – the home country of Pope Francis. The Catholic Church and other groups opposed the measure. They argued the bill violated an Argentine law that guarantees life from the moment of conception.

Abortion is only allowed in Argentina in cases of rape and risks to the mother’s health. Thousands of women, most of them poor, are hospitalized each year for problems linked to unsafe abortions. Supporters of the measure said legalizing abortion would save the lives of many women.

The Health Ministry estimated in 2016 that up to 500,000 secret abortions are performed each year, resulting in the deaths of many women. Activists have estimated about 3,000 women in Argentina have died from illegal abortions since 1983.

Jose Miguel Vivanco is director for the Americas for the rights group Human Rights Watch based in New York City. He had called on Argentine lawmakers to take a “historic” stand to protect the rights of women.

A pro-choice activist holds her face after lawmakers voted against a bill that would have legalized elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, outside Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, early Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP)
A pro-choice activist holds her face after lawmakers voted against a bill that would have legalized elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, outside Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, early Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP)

Rights group Amnesty International had told senators to keep in mind that “the world is watching” the vote.

Demonstrations in support of the measure were held in Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and Ecuador. Efforts to ease or strengthen abortion restrictions have happened in other nations across South and Central America in recent years.

Last year in Chile, the Constitutional Court approved a bill that eased that country’s complete ban on abortions. The law now permits abortions when a woman’s life is in danger, when a fetus is not viable and in cases of rape.

Chile had been the last country in South America to ban abortion in all cases. Several nations in Central America still have complete abortion bans.

Argentina has supported several social movements in recent years.

In this June 3, 2017 photo, Maira Maidana, bottom right, holds a banner with pictures of herself during a march organized by the movement 'Ni Una Menos,' or Not One Less, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
In this June 3, 2017 photo, Maira Maidana, bottom right, holds a banner with pictures of herself during a march organized by the movement 'Ni Una Menos,' or Not One Less, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In 2010, it became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage.

More recently, the Ni Una Menos, or Not One Less, movement was created in Argentina. The movement aims to fight violence against women and has spread around the world.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Reuters and the Associated Press. Mario Ritter was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

abortion –n. a medical operation used to end a pregnancy and cause the death of the fetus

barricade n. something put on or across the road to block it

conception n. the moment a woman becomes pregnant

fetus n. young human that is still developing inside its mother

viable adj. able to be successful

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