Legal abortion bill rejected in Argentina

Argentina's abortion campaigners braced for crucial vote

BUENOS AIRES-Argentina's Senate on Thursday rejected a bill to legalize elective abortions, an issue that sharply divided the nation while raising the prospect that it could prompt other Latin American countries to ease their strict antiabortion laws.

According to an official tally, 38 senators voted against the measure to legalise the termination of a foetus during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, 31 were in favour, while two abstained.

Argentina now allows abortion only in cases of rape or risks to a woman's health and abortion rights activists say 3,000 women have died of illegal abortions since 1983.

Thousands of pro and anti-abortion protesters in rival colours gathered in heavy rain outside Congress in Buenos Aires as politicians debated the proposal for 15 hours.

Abortion is now allowed in cases of rape, or when the mother's health is at risk.

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Some resort to using a clothes hanger wire or knitting needle to break the amniotic sac inside the womb, others take toxic mixtures or herbs that can prove fatal.

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. Amnesty International told Argentine legislators that "the world is watching".

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

"Just because the bill got shot down, it will not stop the movement", said Paula Avila-Guillen, a director of Women's Equality Center, an abortion rights advocacy group.

In neighboring Chile, the Constitutional Court previous year upheld a measure that would end that country's absolute ban on abortions, permitting abortions when a woman's life is in danger, when a fetus is not viable and in cases of rape. Uruguay and Cuba are the only countries in the region to have fully decriminalized abortion.

"It is not a question of beliefs, but of a problem that exists", Fernandez said.

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