Argentina: Lower House of Congress Passes Bill Legalizing Abortion

Demonstrators celebrate with green headscarves - the symbol of abortion rights activists - outside the Argentine Congress in Buenos Aires on December 11, 2020, after legislators passed a bill to legalize abortion. (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP) (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

Argentina moved a step closer to the complete legalization of abortion Friday after the country’s Chamber of Deputies narrowly voted in favor of a bill that will decriminalize the practice nationwide.

The legislation, presented by socialist President Alberto Fernández as one of his central campaign pledges, will allow for voluntary abortions to take place through 14 weeks of pregnancy. Under current Argentine law, abortion is only allowed in cases of rape or if the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s life.

The bill passed by a margin of 14 votes, with 131 in favor, 117 against, and six abstentions. Now the bill must pass the Senate to make it a law. Senators expect to vote on it before the end of the year.

Both supporters and opponents of the bill demonstrated outside the Congress in the capital Buenos Aires as the vote took place. As the result was announced, pro-abortionists erupted with joy, while many of the pro-life activists were seen shedding tears.

The bill is the ninth attempt to change the nation’s abortion law. The most recent attempt to legalize the practice took place in 2018. At the time, the nation’s Senate voted down the legislation despite an aggressive and well-funded international campaign to force it through. Following its rejection, abortionists held demonstrations that eventually turned violent after protesters began throwing stones, bottles, and firebombs at police.

Ahead of Thursday’s debate, the Roman Catholic Church called on legislators to spend a “second of reflection on what respect for life means.” The plea came after Pope Francis, himself an Argentine, criticized “throwaway culture” in a letter to pro-life activists, before encouraging them to keep protesting about the issue.

“The problem of abortion is not primarily a question of religion, but of human ethics, first and foremost of any religious denomination,” he wrote in his letter. “It is good to ask two questions: Is it fair to eliminate human life to solve a problem? Is it right to hire a killer to solve a problem?”

Abortion is largely illegal across Latin America as most countries adhere to Catholic teachings about the importance of life. The practice remains totally prohibited in El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Honduras, while other nations such as Brazil and Chile allow it only in exceptional circumstances.

Should the bill pass through the Senate, Argentina would then become only the third, yet most populous, Latin American country to fully legalize abortion, joining Uruguay and communist Cuba in the process.

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