Argentina's Senate rejects bill to legalize abortion

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The bill would have allowed abortions during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The issue has bitterly divided Argentines, pitting conservative doctors and the Roman Catholic Church against feminist groups and other physicians. Lawmakers debated for more than 15 hours and voted Thursday - 31 in favor to 38 against.

Currently, abortion is illegal in Argentina except in instances of rape, serious health risks to the mother, or if the mother is mentally disabled, according to the Washington Post.

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However, activists also say that the fact that the bill was even debated in the first place was a "victory" of sorts. A vote could come Wednesday or early Thursday. Moreover, efforts to present abortion as a health emergency, calling clandestine abortions the primary cause of maternal death in the country, statistics show that this claim is simply false.

Activists estimate that 3,000 women in Argentina have died of illegal abortions since 1983. The proposal was the subject of mass protests and the Aborto Legal Ya campaign, with supporters carrying signs on Wednesday displaying coat hangers and the word "Adios"-a reference to unsafe methods that have been used by women to terminate unwanted pregnancies".

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Some resort to using a clothes hanger wire or knitting needle to break the amniotic sac inside the womb, others take toxic mixtures or herbs that can prove fatal.

Hundreds of doctors who opposed the bill had laid their white medical coats outside the presidential palace, while the pro-choice movement - in their signature green - held larger demonstrations and drew support from the likes of The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Atwood and actress Susan Sarandon.

Abortion rights supporters wore green scarves while anti-abortion activists donned baby blue.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said Argentina has a "historic opportunity" to protect the rights of women.

Tensions ran high during the legislative debate - which lasted well into the morning - with some members of the lower chamber being barred from the Argentine Senate and the vice president hurling insults at a senator.

Catholic and evangelical groups protested abortion with the slogan, "Argentina, filicide (child murder) will be your ruin". There are three exceptions: if a woman is raped, pregnancy puts her life in danger, or a fetus is brain-dead. Uruguay and Cuba are the only Latin American countries with laws that broadly allow abortion, while Brazil's Supreme Court is in the process of deciding whether to decriminalize abortion in that country.