Argentina’s lower house of Congress has approved a landmark government-backed bill to legalize abortion Friday morning, a big step forward for the legislation that could set the tone for a wider shift in conservative Latin America.
In an extraordinary session, the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina passed the bill with 131 votes in favor, 117 against and 6 abstentions. The bill now moves to the senate for a debate and vote.
Currently, abortion in Argentina is only legal in cases of rape or lethal threat to a woman’s life. The proposed law could legalize abortion in all cases up to 14 weeks.
If passed by the Senate, Argentina, the birthplace of Pope Francis, will be one of the first major South American countries to legalize abortion.
“This is a fundamental step and recognition of a long struggle that women’s movements have been carrying out in our country for years,” Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the government’s Women, Gender and Diversity minister, said after the vote.
“We are going to continue working so that the voluntary termination of pregnancy becomes law.”
Protesters supporting the bill had gathered outside Congress wearing green scarves for an overnight vigil to await the news. A similar vote to legalize abortion was narrowly defeated in a Senate vote in 2018 after passing the lower house.
Opposition groups, wearing light blue scarves, also took to the streets to demonstrate against the bill.
“They don’t want to show what an abortion is,” said Mariana Ledger who was protesting against the bill holding a cross and a dummy of a headless and bloodied fetus.
“This is it, and they don’t want to show it. They are hiding the truth, we are not foolish people.”
Amnesty International welcomed the lower house approval and called on the country’s Senate not to “turn its back” on women and help end clandestine abortions that risk women’s lives.
The initiative includes a parallel bill which will face a separate vote to assist women who want to continue with their pregnancy and face severe economic or social difficulties.
The country has seen a gradual rise in agnosticism in recent years. While the current Peronist government is strongly behind the bill, that was not the case in 2018 during the conservative administration of Mauricio Macri.
“We are not in favor of abortion, we do not recommend or suggest it, we are against clandestine abortion that kills thousands of women,” Argentine actress and campaigner Carola Reyna posted on Twitter.
“We believe that it is a practice that should be regulated by the State, guaranteeing women’s health.”