Argentina Senate votes against legalizing abortion

A child holds up a banner that reads in Spanish

In neighboring 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. The stark reality facing Argentinian women sent thousands of protesters into the streets on Wednesday as the Senate debated the bill for more than 16 hours.

Supporters of the bill held protests for months under the banner of Ni Una Menos, a coalition of women's rights groups.

What would the abortion bill have done? .

The vote was welcomed by fireworks and shouts of joy among anti-abortion activists gathered outside of Congress. Women who asked for an abortion would have had to wait no more than five days to get one.

Speaking to a delegation of the Forum of Family Associations at the Vatican, Francis denounced today's abortion culture and urged his hearers to accept human life as it comes from the hand of God.

As NPR's Colin Dwyer reported earlier, the bill's backers had argued it was an important step in a country where an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 illegal abortions occur each year.

Uruguay and Cuba are the only Latin American countries that now have broadly legalized abortion.

Global human rights and women's groups have been closely following the vote, and figures such as US actress Susan Sarandon and "The Handmaid's Tale" author Margaret Atwood supported the pro-abortion cause in Argentina.

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President Mauricio Macri, who is against abortion, had already said he would sign the bill after the country's lower house chose to support it - but senators voted it down 38 to 31. Current laws allow abortion only in cases of rape and when the mother's health is at risk. But in June, he said getting an abortion to avoid birth defects is similar to Nazi eugenics programmes.

"We're not deciding abortion yes or now".

Tensions ran high during the legislative debate - which lasted well into the morning - with some members of the lower chamber being barred from the Argentine Senate and the vice president hurling insults at a senator.

Hundreds of doctors who opposed the bill had laid their white medical coats outside the presidential palace, while the pro-choice movement - in their signature green - held larger demonstrations and drew support from the likes of The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Atwood and actress Susan Sarandon.

"Fortunately, women are gaining spaces and we've been learning from those spaces that they're demanding", said Gustavo Bayley, a tattoo artist wearing the abortion movement's green handkerchief on his arm.

"We need to make an effort to resolve this", she said.

Rosangela Talib, a coordinator for Catholics for Choice, a leading advocate in Brazil for reproductive rights, said the defeat in Argentina will not deter the fight to decriminalize abortion.

It is also legal in Mexico City.

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