The lower house of Argentina’s congress has narrowly approved a bill that would legalise abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy in what has been described as a historic move.
The bill was narrowly passed by the chamber of deputies by 129 to 123 votes on Thursday and will now go before the senate. Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, has said he will sign it if it is approved.
The vote in favour means the homeland of Pope Francis could become one of Latin America’s most progressive countries on reproductive rights.
“We are dealing with a public health issue that cannot be addressed with blinders, nor with morals and ethics and much less religion,” opposition congresswoman Mayra Mendoza, one of the driving forces of the proposal, said in a speech. “This is also a matter of social justice.”
The opposition, as well as allies of President Mauricio Macri, were divided on the issue. Macri has encouraged his party members to vote as they see fit even though he is personally opposed to the proposal.
Mariela Belski, Amnesty International executive director in Argentina, welcomed the move. “New legislation could end a vicious circle where women have no option but to risk their lives, their health, and their freedom if they are sent to prison,” she said.
Crowds of supporters and opponents of the measure have been watching the debate on large screens set up outside congress.
Currently Argentina allows abortion only in cases of rape or risks to a woman’s health.
The Catholic church strongly opposes the new measure.
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said: “We congratulate the Argentinian chamber of deputies and the Argentinian people for taking a historic first step towards justice for women. For too long, Argentina’s strict abortion law has unfairly punished women, especially poor women.
“As Ireland, and Chile before it, have demonstrated, Catholics can be and often are pro-choice. And indeed Catholic-majority countries can and often do support legislation for safe and legal abortion. Catholics revere individual conscience and support policies that allow all women – especially those without power and privilege – to make their own moral decisions about their bodies safely and freely.”
This article was originally published by The Guardian.