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

Pro-choice demonstrators celebrate after the right to an abortion is legalised.

Pro-choice demonstrators celebrate after the right to an abortion is legalised. Credit:Getty Images

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.

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“Legalising 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 mobilise pro-life groups.”

Argentina’s legalisation 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 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 legalisation. “But I will keep on fighting.”

The vote was a major legislative victory for Fernández, Argentina’s centre-left President, who has made women’s rights central to his administration’s agenda.

But primarily, it was a win for Argentina’s grassroots 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.

Around 40,000 women were hospitalised for complications related to abortions in 2016, according to the latest available data from the Argentinian health ministry, while at least 65 women died between 2016-18 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 Senator Norma 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 New York Times



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