Argentina’s Senate voted against legalizing elective abortion in the early hours of Thursday morning, dashing the hopes of pro-abortion rights advocates in the predominantly Catholic country, the homeland of Pope Francis.
The Senate rejected the proposed bill 38 to 31, with two abstentions and one absentee.
The bill, which fueled contentious debate, would have expanded abortion rights to allow women to end a pregnancy in the first 14 weeks. Current laws allow the procedure only in cases of rape, or when the mother’s health is at risk.
A heavy police presence around the National Congress in Buenos Aires quickly quelled scattered confrontations after the vote’s outcome was announced.
Opposition mounted ahead of the vote in Argentina’s more conservative Senate after the legislation only narrowly passed through the lower house of Congress in June. And the bill lost momentum over the weekend when an opposition senator withdrew her support.
Celia Szusterman, the trustee of the UK board of Pro-Mujer and director of the Latin America program at the Institute for Statecraft, told CNN that is was “a step backward for women’s rights and women’s health.”
She says it’s a “sad day… not only because of the way the vote went but the way the campaign for and against went. It was so divisive.”
But even with its defeat, the groundswell of support for the legislation is not expected to go away, with those who supported the bill saying it was a victory that it was even debated.
Activists say they’ll keep pushing the bill, in the hope that it passes one day soon.
“It will happen because that’s the world — to increase rights and this is one of the fundamental rights that are still not available to women in Latin America,” Szusterman said.
The bill has ignited passions and sparked widespread protests in Argentina, with anti-abortion campaigners protesting in the streets under blue “save both lives” banners and members of the opposing side in the debate donning green bandanas.
As senators debated the bill into the early hours of Thursday morning, pro-abortion rights activists rallied outside Congress chanting “legal abortion at the hospital” while the Catholic Church held a “Mass for Life” in the capital Buenos Aires.
In recent weeks the so-called “green wave” demonstrations have spread outside of Argentina too. Green bandanas now a symbol of the abortion rights movement have been spotted in Brazil, where the country’s supreme court is considering loosening abortion restrictions. And momentum is growing in Chile, where lawmakers voted last year to ease the country’s strict ban.