Argentine Senate begins debate on historic abortion law

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Argentina's senators on Thursday voted against legalizing abortion in the homeland of Pope Francis, dashing the hopes of women's rights groups after the bill was approved by the legislature's lower house months earlier.

According to an official tally, 38 senators voted against, 31 in favor, while two abstained.

The Senate in predominately Roman Catholic Argentina has rejected a law that would have legalized abortion, rebuffing a grass-roots abortion-rights movement.

Deputies vote on the abortion bill on Thursday in Buenos Aires.

An activist in favour of the legalisation of abortion reacts outside the National Congress in Buenos Aires.

Following Thursday's vote against voluntary abortion, the Catholic Church in Argentina seeks to remain a place of welcome for mothers facing hard, unforeseen, or unwanted pregnancies.

She added that the Senate had "therefore chose to agree on a system which forces women, girls and others who can become pregnant to undergo clandestine and unsafe abortions".

In March, Francis sent a letter to the Argentine people urging them to "contribute to the defense of life and justice" as the abortion debate intensified.

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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. The Health Ministry estimated in 2016 that the country sees as many as a half million clandestine abortions each year.

Small groups rallied in other countries across the region to voice support for the Argentine abortion measure, including in Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru.

Currently, abortion is allowed in Argentina in only three cases, similar to most of Latin America: rape, a threat to the mother's life or if the fetus is disabled.

Pro-abortion campaigners have for years tried to get bills passed, but their efforts gained new impetus when President Mauricio Macri - who himself opposes abortion - called on Congress to consider it. In June, however, he likened abortions meant to prevent birth defects to the Nazi eugenics program. Amnesty International has told Argentine legislators that "the world is watching".

"We're not deciding abortion yes or now".

Even Argentinian doctors joined the demonstrations, many of them pro-life, with signs saying, "I'm a doctor, not a murderer".

There are at least 350,000 illegal abortions in Argentina every year, the Ministry of Health estimates, though global human rights groups say the number may be higher.

His sentiments were shared by 21-year-old Camila Sforza, who said she remained hopeful despite the setback. "We're deciding abortion in a hospital, or illegal abortion, with a clothes hanger, or anything else that puts a woman in a humiliating, degrading situation - a real torture", she said.

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