Argentina legalizes abortion, ‘every outcast is a child of God’, Pope Francis opposes

On Wednesday, Argentina became the largest nation in Latin America to legalize abortion. In a conservative region like Argentina, it is the result of a grass-roots movement that turned years of rallies into political power.

After 12 hours of dramatic debate over the tensions between the long-dominant Roman Catholic Church and a growing feminist movement, a gripping voting session in the early morning led to the measure’s approval by a wider-than-expected margin of 38 to 29, with one abstention.

As the news came out, large crowds of campaigners both for and against abortion had gathered outside Congress in the capital Buenos Aires to try to sway undecided senators. Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, has promised to sign the bill into law, making it legal for women to end pregnancies for any reason up to 14 weeks. After that, there will be exceptions allowed for rape and the health of the mother.

Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana are the only other countries in Latin America to allow abortion on request. In Argentina, like a number of other countries in the region, abortions were only permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was at risk.

“Legalizing abortion in Argentina is a gigantic victory that protects fundamental rights and will inspire change in Latin America,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, the Americas deputy director for Human Rights Watch. “It’s predictable, however, that this will also mobilize pro-life groups.
”Argentina’s legalization of abortion was a striking criticism of Pope Francis, who injected himself into the bitter political debate in his homeland on the eve of the vote, praising a women’s group from impoverished neighbourhoods for its activism against abortion. It was also a setback for the country’s fast-growing evangelical Protestant churches, which had joined forces with the Catholic Church in opposing the change.
“I feel a profound sense of anguish that in this country that I love the right to life is not respected,” said Abigail Pereira, 27, who had been out in Buenos Aires protesting against legalization. “But I will keep on fighting.”
The vote was a major legislative victory for Mr Fernández, Argentina’s centre-left president, who has campaigned for the presidency on a platform that included abortion rights, gender equality and gay and transgender rights, and he has followed through on those promises to a degree that has surprised even some of his supporters.
It is a win for Argentina’s grass-roots abortion-rights advocates, who have recently paved the way for other deep shifts in the country’s cultural and political landscape — including marriage equality, gender parity initiatives and transgender rights — and made Argentina an advocate of changes that have gained broader traction in the region.
Argentina’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the bill earlier this month, by a vote of 131 to 117. It also passed a similar measure two years ago, only to have it fail in the Senate, 38 to 31. Senator Norma Durango said legalizing abortion would simply bring the practice out of the shadows. Researchers say hundreds of thousands of underground abortions are performed in Argentina every year.

“I sit here today representing all the women who have died having clandestine abortions,” said Ms Durango, who was the first lawmaker to speak during the debate that began Tuesday. “Abortion is a reality and it has been taking place since time immemorial.”

The effort to loosen Argentina’s abortion laws is decades old, but it got a boost from the feminist movement Ni Una Menos, which formed in 2015 to protest violence against women and has since been the driving force behind the abortion legalization campaign.
The symbol of that effort in Argentina — green handkerchiefs — has caught on in several Latin American countries, including Mexico, where women sporting them have poured into the streets demanding greater support for their rights. “The green movement that started in Argentina has taken over the entire region,” said Paula Ávila-Guillen, executive director of the Women’s Equality Center. “Any activist from Mexico to Argentina is wearing the green handkerchief as a symbol for legalizing abortion.”
The Catholic Church, which remains highly influential in Latin America, had opposed the move, calling on senators to reject the bill. Pope Francis, who is Argentine, had tweeted just hours before the debate that “every outcast is a child of God.”

Catholic and evangelical leaders had called on supporters to observe a day of prayer and fasting on Monday to reflect on “the killing of so many innocent children.” Church leaders have been working throughout the year to galvanize the faithful, and large anti-abortion marches have taken place across the country.

On Tuesday, opponents of legal abortion, who tend to wear baby blue, displayed a large doll that looked like a fetus, which they sprayed with fake blood.

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