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Argentina Legalizes Abortion, a Milestone in a Conservative Region


BUENOS AIRES — #Argentina on #Wednesday became the largest nation in #Latin #America to legalize abortion, a landmark vote in a conservative region and a victory for a grass-roots movement that turned years of rallies into political power.

The high-stakes vote in the #Senate gripped the nation into the early morning, and the measure’s approval — by a wider-than-expected margin of 38 to 29, with one abstention — came after 12 hours of often dramatic debate, exposing the tensions between the long-dominant #Roman #Catholic #Church, whose influence is waning, and a growing feminist movement.

#As it unfolded, the #Senate debate was closely followed by masses of both opponents and supporters of abortion rights, who camped out in the plaza around the neo-Classical #Palace of #Congress, chanting, cheering and praying as they tried to sway a handful of undecided senators to their respective camps.

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#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.

The effects of the legalization vote are likely to ripple across #Latin #America, galvanizing reproductive-rights advocates elsewhere in the region and leaving them hopeful that other socially conservative nations could follow suit.

#Uruguay, #Cuba and #Guyana are the only other countries in #Latin #America to allow abortion on request. #Argentina, like a number of other countries in the region, had previously permitted abortion in cases of rape or if the pregnancy posed a risk to a woman’s health; other #Latin #American countries have stricter limits or total prohibitions.

“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 rebuke 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 neighborhoods 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 center-left president, who has made women’s rights central to his administration’s agenda.

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#But primarily, it was 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 a bellwether 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; the president at the time, #Mauricio #Macri, said he was personally against legalization but vowed not to veto the bill if it made it through #Congress.

#Mr. #Fernández 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.

#Supporters of the abortion measure, including #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.

#Around 40,000 women were hospitalized for complications related to abortions in 2016, according to the latest available data from the #Health #Ministry, while at least 65 women died between 2016 and 2018 from complications, according to a report by #Argentina’s #Access to #Safe #Abortion #Network.

“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.”

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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.”

#Just hours before the #Senate took up the measure on #Tuesday afternoon, #Pope #Francis, who as pontiff has sought to distance himself from political debates in #Argentina, issued a message that appeared directed to the handful of senators who had not yet made their position clear.

“The #Son of #God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of #God,” he wrote on #Twitter. “He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love.”

#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.

#Mr. #Fernández, a law professor who has long supported legalizing abortion, made it a campaign promise, and an early legislative priority once he took office at the end of 2019. The decision entailed political risks, as he took the reins of a troubled economy that has been in recession for two years and soon after ordered one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world.

#But #Mr. #Fernández and his vice president, #Cristina #Fernández de #Kirchner, came to see abortion as one of the few items on their agenda they could advance amid a torrent of challenges. #Ms. #Kirchner, who led #Argentina as president from 2007 to 2015, opposed legalizing abortion during most of her political career.

#Her position shifted in the lead-up to the vote in 2018, when tens of thousands of women demonstrated across #Argentina in support of making access to abortion on request legal. #Ms. #Kirchner, who was then a senator, has said her daughter played a key role in changing her mind.

“Through our years of activism, we’ve managed to get people to change their positions,” said #Celeste #Mac #Dougall, an abortion rights advocate. “Cristina #Fernández de #Kirchner is the most obvious example that opinions can change.”

#Daniel #Politi reported from #Buenos #Aires and #Ernesto #Londoño from #Rio de #Janeiro.





[ source link ]
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/30/world/americas/argentina-legalizes-abortion.html

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