Argentina’s Senate rejects bill to legalise abortion

Activists say 3,000 women have died of illegal abortions in the country since 1983

At least seven have been arrested in Argentina after street violence broke out following the country's Senate rejected a bill to legalize abortion. Video: Reuters


Argentina’s Senate has rejected a bill to legalise elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The issue has divided the homeland of Pope Francis. Politicians debated for more than 15 hours and voted on Thursday with 31 in favour to 38 against.

Crowds of supporters and opponents of the measure braved the heavy rain to watch the debate on large screens set up outside Congress.

The lower house of Congress had already passed the measure and President Mauricio Macri had said that he would sign it.

Argentina now allows the procedure only in cases of rape or risks to a woman’s health, and activists say 3,000 women have died of illegal abortions since 1983. Opponents, meanwhile, insist life begins at conception and complain the bill could force doctors to perform the procedure even when they believe it is hazardous.

The issue has bitterly divided Argentines, pitting conservative doctors and the Roman Catholic Church against feminist groups and other physicians.

Hundreds of doctors have staged anti-abortion protests, in one case laying their white medical coats on the ground outside the presidential palace.

Feminist groups, in turn, have held demonstrations in support of the measure, often wearing green that symbolises their movement or costumes based on author Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Women’s movements across South America have been pushing against decades-old abortion prohibitions.

In neighbouring Brazil, supporters and opponents of abortion recently testified before the Supreme Federal Tribunal in an extraordinary session on whether to allow elective abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In Brazil, which is home to the world’s largest population of Catholics and fast-growing evangelical faiths, abortion carries a punishment of up to three years in prison.

There are three exceptions: if a woman is raped, pregnancy puts her life in danger, or a fetus is brain-dead.

Chile’s Constitutional Court last year upheld legislation ending the Andean nation’s absolute ban on abortions, permitting the procedure when a woman’s life is in danger, when a fetus is not viable or in cases of rape.

Small groups rallied in other countries across the region to voice support for the Argentine abortion measure, including in Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru.