Argentina lower house approve bill to decriminalize abortion

Demonstrators protest outside Congress

"Today, Argentina has committed to make significant progress in defending the human rights of women and girls, and is also sending an important message to the rest of the continent, where restrictive laws on accessing safe and legal abortions have caused death and suffering for millions of women and girls", said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

The vote was expected to be tight as the debate on abortion has deeply divided Argentinian society.

Pro- and anti-abortion groups were holding demonstrations outside Congress from early Wednesday, with protesters saying they would remain until the vote, which was likely in the early hours of Thursday. "We have to value life, this bill treats life as if it were disposable".

The parliament of Pope Francis's homeland has narrowly voted to liberalise the country's abortion laws. Girls between ages 13 and 16 would need permission from an adult to receive an abortion.

"A woman is not entitled to an abortion, she has the right to health". The movement then broadened to include issues such as LGBTQ rights and abortion rights. Carino said the trend toward legalizing abortion will continue to grow.

Argentina's Supreme Court only decriminalized abortions in cases of rape six years ago.

Supporters of the Argentine bill were heartened by a recent vote in Ireland, another predominantly Catholic country.

But physicians are often hesitant to perform an abortion, even when it's legally sanctioned, Carino said.

Ahead of the session, 122 deputies in the 275-seat Chamber said they would vote against the bill, with 117 in favor. For too long, Argentina's strict abortion law has unfairly punished women, especially poor women. But analysts aren't so sure.

Before the session, there was an unprecedented debate in public hearings that lasted about two months in the committees involved in the project, with the participation and exposure of scientists, intellectuals, artists, religious leaders, doctors and lawyers who were in favor and against the initiative. "There is a lot of social pressure and some lawmakers, particularly the young ones, may be anxious that this vote will mark them for future generations".

Argentines are as divided over the issue in the streets as in Congress. Analysts note that more senators have spoken out against the bill than in its favour.

"Of course we can't dismiss the role of public opinion and the pressure that approval in the lower house could bring". Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires, and CNN's Ralph Ellis wrote and reported from Atlanta.



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