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Operations Ending Pregnancies Legalized in Pope's Native Argentina

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Argentina's Senate passed a law legalizing abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy Wednesday. The vote came after the senate debated the measure for 12 hours.

It is considered a victory for the women's movement that has been fighting for the measure for more than 30 years.

The vote also means that abortion will also be legal after the 14th week in cases of rape or if there is a danger to the mother's life. Argentina's new law might affect the legality of abortion across South America, where the operation is mostly illegal.

The measure passed by a vote of 38 to 29. The bill had already been approved by Argentina's Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, and had the support of President Alberto Fernández.

"Safe, legal and free abortion is now the law," Fernández wrote on Twitter after the vote. During his campaign for the presidency, Fernandez had promised to legalize abortion. "Today, we are a better society that expands women's rights and guarantees public health," he added.

Argentina, the former home of Pope Francis, is the largest Latin American country to legalize abortion. The operation is legal in Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico City, Mexico's Oaxaca state, the Antilles and French Guiana. But it remains largely illegal across South America.

Outside the Senate, pro- and anti-abortion activists gathered, separated by a large barrier. The bill's supporters wore the color green that represents their abortion rights movement. They waved green flags as Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced the result. She cried "legal abortion in the hospital!" as the measure was passed.

Argentina until now has punished women and those who help them end pregnancies. The only exceptions were cases involving rape or a risk to the health of the mother, but those were denied in some parts of the country.

Before the vote, the Roman Catholic bishop's conference had denounced the measure as an "obsession."

Just hours before the Senate debate began Tuesday, the Pope tweeted: "The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God."

Following the vote, the bishops released a statement saying the measure "will deepen even further the divisions in our country." It said the country's leadership was distant from the anti-abortion sentiment across the nation.

Before the vote, the Catholic Church had joined forces with evangelical Christians in the country in an effort to defeat the measure.

'The Catholic Church in Argentina has great sway. There's a very strong Catholic culture in the political world,' sociologist Fortunato Mallimaci told the French News Agency. He wrote a book about religion and Argentina.

Argentine lawmakers rejected an earlier abortion bill in 2018. This time, it was supported by the government.

The outcome was considered uncertain because the political parties gave their senators the freedom to vote as they chose.

Amnesty International celebrated the vote as "an inspiration for other countries…and the world."

Those against the measure watched sadly as the vote took place.

"These politicians aren't representing the majority," said Luciana Prat. "People are against this," she added.

Government numbers say illegal abortions have caused more than 3,000 deaths in the country since 1983.

The measure permits health professionals and private medical centers to refuse to perform abortions. But they are required to tell a woman where to go to get the operation. An abortion cannot be refused if the woman's life or health is in danger.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

Words In This Story

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

bishop – n. an official in some Christian religions who is ranked higher than a priest and who is usually in charge of church matters in a specific geographical area

obsession – n. someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently

outcast – n. someone who is not accepted by other people

evangelical – adj. of or relating to a Christian sect or group that stresses the authority of the Bible, the importance of believing that Jesus Christ saved you personally from sin or hell, and the preaching of these beliefs to other people

sway – v. to cause (someone) to agree with you or to share your opinion

inspiration – n. something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create

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