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Argentina's Senate rejects bill to legalise abortion

Argentina's Senate rejects bill to legalise abortion

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.

In neighbouring Brazil, supporters and opponents of abortion recently testified before the Supreme Federal Tribunal in an extraordinary session on whether to allow elective abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Supporters of the bill held protests for months under the banner of Ni Una Menos, a coalition of women's rights groups. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose administration was against legalizing abortion, voted in favor of the bill.

After the result was announced, anti-abortion demonstrators clad in blue, which is the colour of the "save both lives" movement, danced and set off fireworks outside the building.

Argentina is a predominantly Catholic country and is also the homeland of Pope Francis.

Women's movements across South America have been pushing against decades-old abortion prohibitions.

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Meanwhile, at the city's Metropolitan Cathedral, a "mass for life" was held in support of keeping laws unchanged. Women found guilty of having illegal abortions can serve up to four years in prison, and medical professionals involved in such procedures can go to prison for up to six years.

USA -based organizations such as Live Action, Human Defense Initiative and the National Right to Life Committee expressed their opposition to the bill as well. Abortion is now legal only if the pregnancy is the result of sexual assault or if the mother's life is in danger.

Prior to the vote, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said he would sign the bill if it passed, despite personally disagreeing with abortion. In June, however, he likened abortions meant to prevent birth defects to the Nazi eugenics program.

"Children are to be received as they come, as God sends them", he said. Moreover, efforts to present abortion as a health emergency, calling clandestine abortions the primary cause of maternal death in the country, statistics show that this claim is simply false. Feminists and other groups led even larger demonstrations in support of the measure, often wearing green that symbolizes the pro-abortion movement, or red cloaks and white bonnets like the characters from the novel-turned-TV series "The Handmaid's Tale".

Rosangela Talib, a coordinator for Catholics for Choice, a leading advocate in Brazil for reproductive rights, said the defeat in Argentina will not deter the fight to decriminalize abortion.

The alleged "human rights" organization Amnesty International has been hammering Argentina to repeal its constitutional provision protecting preborn babies from abortion.