Argentina Legalizes Abortion Despite Opposition from Catholics and Evangelicals

Supporters of legalizing abortion celebrating outside Congress in Buenos Aires on Wednesday. (Credit…Sarah Pabst for The New York Times)

Argentina on Wednesday became the largest nation in Latin America to legalize abortion, a landmark vote in a conservative region and a victory for a grass-roots movement that turned years of rallies into political power.

The high-stakes vote, during 12 hours of often dramatic debate in the Senate, gripped the nation and exposed the tensions between a conservative society long influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, and a more secular generation that is fired up by a growing feminist movement.

“When I was born, women did not vote, we did not inherit, we could not manage our assets, we could not have bank accounts, we didn’t have credit cards, we couldn’t go to university,” Senator Silvia Sapag said in an emotional speech after the vote. “When I was born, women were nobody.”

Now, she added, for all the women who fought for those legal rights and more, “let it be law.”

The effects of the legalization vote are likely to ripple across Latin America, galvanizing abortion-rights advocates elsewhere in the region. The symbol of that effort in Argentina — green handkerchiefs — has begun showing up in other countries where women have poured into the streets demanding greater support for their rights.

Argentine groups that had worked against the abortion legislation, with the active support of Pope Francis, vowed not to give up.

“This doesn’t end here,” said Ana Belén Marmora, an activist in the anti-abortion group Youth Front. “We will not allow our voices to be ignored like this.”

As she spoke, a sonogram was carried out on a pregnant woman on a stage as people cheered: “Long live life!”

But the mood outside the neo-Classical Palace of Congress, where tens of thousands gathered while the bill was being debated into the early hours, was one of elation. Many in the crowd were part of a grass-roots effort that had made a concerted push for women’s rights, and focused on abortion access as its main goal.

When news came that the bill had been approved by a wider-than-expected margin — 38 to 29, with one abstention — supporters turned the night into a celebration alive with music and dancing, tears and wildly waving green handkerchiefs.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Daniel Politi and Ernesto Londoño