Thousands Of Women Rally As Argentina Votes To Legalise Abortion

The Catholic Church plays a major role in the politics of the country.

Argentina's pending vote on legalising abortion is historic for a number of reasons.

Not only do most of the political parties in the country maintain a hard-line stance on the issue but the anti-abortion Catholic Church also continues to exert a major influence on public life. In fact, the pope himself was born in the nation's capital Buenos Aires.

Leading up to the vote, there has been intense campaigning on both the for and against sides. Pro-abortion groups sport green scarves as they rally in the streets, while anti-abortion campaigners wear blue as they defend the views of the Church.

Thousands of people gather outside the Senate press office in Buenos Aires ahead of the abortion vote. Image: Getty Images.
Options For Abortion In Argentina

If the vote is passed into law by the nation's Senate, Argentina will become the most populous nation in Latin America to have legalised the procedure up to 14 weeks.

Abortion is currently legal in cases of rape or if the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother's health. While it is rare for a women to be convicted in light of having an abortion, they can still be sent to jail for having the procedure.

That doesn't mean women in Argentina aren't having abortions. While there are no official numbers on how many procedures are done annually,  the nation's Ministry of Health says it could be as many as 500,000. Due to the legalities surrounding abortion, these procedures are often carried out without proper medical care.

Pro-abortion activists dress as in Handmaid's Tale costumes as they fight to legalise the procedure. Image: Getty Images.

According to the Health Ministry, 43 women died in 2016 due to abortion-related complications.

How Did The Abortion Vote Come To Be?

There have been many efforts to legalise abortion in Argentina but it was the push instigated by a movement called Ni Una Menos ( Not One Less) that really stuck.

The movement started in 2015 to raise awareness about violence against women and eventually part of their campaign involved addressing legal issues in regards to women's rights, including abortion. Through months of campaigning, while wearing their iconic green handkerchiefs, the issue gained enough attention for it to be narrowly passed by the lower house of Congress in June.

The Senate debate on the law started on Wednesday, however the result of the discussion is not expected until early Thursday local time. The Senate could decide to amend parts of the initial bill or reject it completely.

The Senate is expected to deliver a decision on Thursday morning local time. Image: Getty Images.
An Historic Decision For Many Reasons

If the bill is passed, it will be a hugely historic decision for Latin America, where abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world.

Only Cuba and Uruguay have legalised abortion, while Mexico's abortion laws are done by state. Mexico City legalised abortion in 2007, where women can terminate a pregnancy up to 12 weeks. Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti and Suriname all have a total ban on abortion.

The Catholic Church has a major influence on the politics in Argentina. Image: Reuters

A vote in favour of the reform would also be significant due to the influence the Catholic Church has on  politics. There have been large protests opposing the reform and deep-seated objections to going against religious teachings.

In March this year, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the Argentine people urging them uphold the “defense of life and justice.” Many people saw this as an indirect mandate to protect the Church's teachings on abortion.