Argentina braces for abortion vote in Pope's homeland

An aerial view of a protest against abortion legalization organized by the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches in Argentina

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.

Argentina and Brazil are not the only Catholic nations where abortion has been at the forefront of the national conversation in recent months.

"The only way to understand this is through the point of view of public health", he said.

In a victory for pro-life advocates in Argentina, the country's Senate rejected a bill on Thursday to legalize voluntary abortion into the 14 week of pregnancy.

"The president giving a green light to this debate, despite his personal position, did a lot in allowing this discussion to move forward", Tamara Taraciuk Broner, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch, told CNN.

But the grassroots movement behind the legislation was buoyed by coming closer than ever to achieving approval for abortion and activists vowed to keep pressing to expand women's reproductive rights.

Despite the strict abortion ban, hundreds of thousands of women in Argentina are still having abortions.

Senators from Argentina's northern regions led the charge against legalizing voluntary abortion, while representatives from the Buenos Aires region and those in the south pushed to pass it.

After spending almost eight hours rallying with fellow pro-lifers, Maria Curutchet said, "It was a very emotional day".

Ousset said while working at the hospital she realized there was another reality: abortions were being performed in private clinics with better conditions.

It's believed pressure from the Catholic church and Pope Francis are behind the decision not to stray from the strict abortion ban.

Maria Jose Benitez, a student who backed the campaign against legalization, said government could do more to help women financially and psychologically during pregnancy.

In Brazil, which is home to the world's largest population of Catholics and fast-growing evangelical faiths, abortion carries a punishment of up to three years in prison. Uruguay and Cuba are the only countries in the region to have fully decriminalized abortion.

Currently, women in the country are allowed to have an abortion only if the pregnancy is threatening the mother's life, or if it was conceived through rape.

There are at least 350,000 illegal abortions in Argentina every year, the Ministry of Health estimates, though worldwide human rights groups say the number may be higher, with dozens of women dying each year as a result.

In neighboring Chile, the Constitutional Court previous year upheld a measure that would end that country's absolute ban on abortions, permitting abortions when a woman's life is in danger, when a fetus is not viable and in cases of rape.

Paula Avila-Guillen, a director of Women's Equality Center, an abortion rights advocacy group, tells Reuters that the bill's supporters are prepared to regroup. Using the hashtag #AbortoLegalYa, meaning "Legal abortion already" in Spanish, allies shared snapshots of demonstrations, signs of protests, and lots of poignant green.

In a statement after the vote, the bishops' conference said it was time to address the "new divisions developing between us. through a renewed exercise of dialogue".

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