The bill was already approved by Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies and has the support of President Alberto Fernandez, meaning the Senate vote was its final hurdle.
Argentina’s Senate has passed a law legalising abortion in Pope Francis’ homeland after a marathon 12-hour session, a victory for the women’s movement that has been fighting for the right for decades.
The vote means that abortion will be legalised up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and also will be legal after that time in cases of rape or danger to the mother’s life. It will have repercussions across a continent where the procedure is largely illegal.
The measure was passed with 38 votes in favour, 29 against and one abstention, after a session that began late Tuesday.
It was already approved by Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies and has the support of President Alberto Fernández, meaning the Senate vote was its final hurdle.
"This has been a struggle for many years, many women died. Never again will there be a woman killed in a clandestine abortion," said Vilma Ibarra, the author of the law and legal and technical secretary for the presidency, who wept as she spoke to reporters after the result.
"We did it sisters. We made history. We did it together. There are no words for this moment, it passes through the body and the soul," tweeted Monica Macha, a lawmaker with President Alberto Fernandez' center-left ruling coalition.
“Safe, legal and free abortion is now the law,” Fernández himself tweeted after the vote, noting that it had been an election pledge.
“Today, we are a better society that expands women's rights and guarantees public health,” he added.
Thousands of women in Argentina celebrating abortion is finally legal.— Xavi Ruiz (@xruiztru) December 30, 2020
Protests outside parliament
Argentina is the largest Latin American country to legalise abortion and the vote was being closely watched.
Abortion is extremely rare in a region where the Church has held cultural and political sway for centuries. With the exceptions of Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico City, Mexico's Oaxaca state, the Antilles and French Guiana, abortion remains largely illegal across the region.
Outside the Senate, pro- and anti-abortion rights activists gathered, with the bill’s supporters wearing the color green that represents their abortion rights movement. Backers waved green flags as Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who presided over the debate, announced the result, shouting “legal abortion in the hospital” as the measure was passed.
Argentina until now has penalised women and those who help them abort. The only exceptions were cases involving rape or a risk to the health of the mother, and activists complain even these exceptions are not respected in some provinces.
Just hours before the Senate session began Tuesday, the pope weighed in, tweeting: "The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God. 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.”
After the vote, thousands of the bill's opponents dispersed, wiping away tears as a speaker from a makeshift stage told them: "We are witnessing a defeat of life. But our convictions do not change. We are going to make ourselves heard."
Legislation will allow conscientious refusal to participate in an abortion for health professionals and private medical institutions at which all doctors are against the procedure. But they will be required to refer the woman to another medical center. Conscientious objection also could not be claimed if a pregnant woman’s life or health was in danger.
The Catholic church argues that abortion violates the right to life.