Why Argentina’s Failed Abortion Vote Matters So Much

August 9, 2018, 8:58 AM UTC

All eyes were on Argentina’s Senate on Thursday as its members voted on an abortion bill.

After more than 15 hours of debate, the Senate rejected the bill, which would have legalized abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, 31 for to 38 against. Abortion is currently only legal in the case of rape or danger to the life of the woman.

Abortion in Latin America

Despite not passing in the Senate, the bill is significant: Argentina is the fourth most populous country in the region and would have become the biggest country to permit abortions. Brazil, the region’s most populous country, is also in the midst of exploring permitting abortion—the Supreme Court held a hearing earlier this week to decide whether to decriminalize it up to 12 weeks.

Currently, only three of the 33 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean allow elective abortions: Cuba, Uruguay, and Guyana. Abortions are also permitted in Mexico City. Meanwhile, six countries—Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Suriname—ban abortion entirely.

A Changing Tide in the Region?

If Argentina and Brazil were to legalize abortion, two-fifths of women across the region, totaling 126 million, would be granted the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. While the bill did not pass in Argentina, that it made it to the Senate could already be an indication of a changing tide in the region—the bill had passed in the lower house and President Mauricio Macri had said he would sign it.

And support seems to be cropping up elsewhere. “Green wave” demonstrations in support of abortion rights have recently been seen in Chile, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and even Spain. Many had hoped that legalization in Argentina could serve as a sign of what’s to come for the rest of the region.

What’s Next?

Amnesty International’s Argentina director Mariela Belski explained that “Argentina is a country that has shaped the agenda for the region in terms of human rights,” referring to Argentina leading the way in legalizing same-sex marriage. And according to an Amnesty survey, 60% of Argentinians are in favor of abortion. The fight might not be over yet.

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