BUENOS AIRES—Lawmakers in Argentina’s lower house on Friday passed a bill that would legalize abortion in most cases, a proposal from President Alberto Fernández in response to long-sought demands from women’s rights activists.
The bill, which needs approval from the country’s Senate in a debate expected before the end of the year, allows for voluntary abortions to be carried out up to the 14th week of pregnancy.
The proposed law was approved in a 131-117 vote with six abstentions after a marathon debate that extended from Thursday into the early hours of Friday morning.
Demonstrators in favor of decriminalizing abortion, who had spent the night outside the congress building in Buenos Aires, erupted with joy and embraced each other as they listened to the parliamentary speaker reading the vote’s results on screens. Many of them wore face masks in the green color that has become a symbol for their movement.
Hundreds of meters (yards) away, not far from the parliament building, hundreds of opponents dressed in light blue and carrying the national flag deplored the result, with some shedding tears.
Latin America has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. Mexico City, Cuba and Uruguay are among the few places in the region where women can undergo abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy regardless of the circumstances.
Currently, many women who have an abortion in Argentina, as well as people who assist them with the procedure, can face prosecution. Exemptions are only considered in cases of rape or if pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s health.
While the bill passed the lower house, the outlook is less clear in the country’s Senate. Two years ago, during the administration of more conservative President Mauricio Macri, the upper house voted against a similar bill to legalize abortion after it was narrowly approved by the lower house
Ahead of Thursday’s debate, the Roman Catholic Church had appealed to legislators for “a second of reflection on what respect for life means,” echoing the position of Pope Francis, an Argentine, that abortion is part of today’s “throwaway culture” that doesn’t respect the dignity of the unborn, the weak or elderly.
Before getting elected one year ago, Fernández had promised to push for making abortion voluntary and cost-free.
Several thousand women seeking abortions have died during unsafe, clandestine procedures in Argentina since 1983, and about 38,000 women are hospitalized every year because of botched procedures conducted in secret, according to the government.