Argentina is set to become the largest Latin American country to legalize abortion after the country’s Senate approved a measure Wednesday allowing women access to abortion services in the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy. The vote was years in the making, as activists pushed in the grassroots for the legalization of abortion, and came immediately after 12 hours of often heated debate in the country’s upper house. The ultimate vote took place at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning with swarms of demonstrators representing both sides of the issue camped out through the night outside of the legislature. When the final tally came in, the abortion bill, which had been approved by the country’s lower house earlier this month, 131 to 117, was approved by the Senate, 38 to 29, a wider margin than was expected. Abortion rights supporters erupted in cheers, chanting and waving green flags in the streets of Buenos Aires when the vote was announced.
Argentina’s center-left president, Alberto Fernández, pledged to sign the bill into law after placing women’s rights at the center of his administration’s agenda. “Safe, legal, and free abortion is law,” Fernández said after the vote. “Today we are a better society that broadens rights for women and guarantees public health.” The new law will also permit abortions after 14 weeks in cases of rape or incest. “We did it, sisters. We made history. We did it together,” Mónica Macha, a lawmaker in the center-left ruling coalition, tweeted after the vote. “There are no words for this moment. It passes through the body and the soul.”
“Argentina’s legalization 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 neighborhoods for its activism against abortion,” the New York Times reports. “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.”
The vote comes two years after a similar measure was advanced by Argentina’s lower house only to be voted down by the Senate, 38 to 31. Even then, the country’s more conservative president, Mauricio Macri, said he would have signed the bill into law even though he was personally opposed to legalizing abortion. Argentina previously had only allowed abortions in cases of rape or incest, in line with its conservative religious neighbors that had similar rules or maintained outright bans no matter the circumstances. When the bill is signed into law, Argentina will assume a pioneering role in Latin America, becoming by far the largest and most influential nation to allow for elective abortions. Currently, Uruguay and Guyana, along with Cuba, are the only countries in Latin America that allow women access to abortion services.