The lower house of Argentina’s Congress on Thursday narrowly passed a Bill to legalise abortion through 14 weeks of pregnancy after a tight vote on a proposal that has divided the South American nation.
The Bill, which will now go to the Senate, would include abortion in the free public health system. It passed the house with 129 votes in favour and 125 against after an all-night debate.
“We are dealing with a public health issue that cannot be addressed with blinders, nor with morals and ethics and much less religion,” opposition congresswoman Mayra Mendoza, one of the driving forces of the proposal, said in a speech. “This is also a matter of social justice.”
The opposition, as well as allies of President Mauricio Macri, were divided on the issue. Macri has encouraged his party members to vote as they see fit even though he is personally opposed to the proposal.
Argentina, like most countries in Latin America, currently permits abortion in specific cases, including rape and risk to the mother’s life. Rights groups have criticised a requirement for a judge’s permission, which often results in lengthy delays or denial of the procedure.
The Bill emphasises the danger Argentine women face in seeking clandestine abortions, particularly poor women. It is estimated that half a million of such abortions are performed annually, according to local NGOs that strongly sponsor the iniciative.
The debate, as the vote in the Lower House, has divided Argentine public opinion, with pro-life and supporters of decriminalization of abortion in vigil all night outside Congress, in areas clearly separated by special portable walls.
Despite the hard won victory in the Lower House, the bill faces an even steeper uphill battle in the Senate, considered more conservative, according to Buenos Aires political analysts.