Argentina’s Senate has passed a landmark abortion bill, becoming the fourth country in Latin America to legalise the practice.
The Senate voted by 38 in favour to 29 against with one abstention to approve a bill allowing the procedure through the 14th week of pregnancy, bucking the traditionally strong influence of the Catholic Church in the region.
The contentious vote followed a marathon debate that began at 4pm (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of people packed into the square around the National Congress for a 12 hour debate, breaking into chants of “legal abortion in the hospital” as the votes were counted.
“I can’t believe it,” said Viviana Rios Alvarado, 25, as she embraced her friend moments after the vote.
“So many things we’ve been through or that people we love have suffered through. It’s took too long, but now it’s here for others, and for us too. And that’s incredible,” she said.
The vote is the result of a long campaign in a country that remained divided on the issue.
Opponents also gathered outside the Congress, holding a mass and praying for legislators to block the bill.As the result was read out, a crowd of thousands erupted in cheers outside the Senate building in Buenos Aires, waving the green flags that represented their campaign as green smoke rose above the crowd.
“We did it sisters. We made history. We did it together. There are no words for this moment, it passes through the body and the soul,” tweeted Monica Macha, a politician with President Alberto Fernandez’ centre-left ruling coalition which supported the law.
The ruling could set the tone for a wider shift in conservative Latin America where there are growing calls for greater reproductive rights for women.
Across the region, abortions are available on demand only in Communist Cuba, comparatively tiny Uruguay and some parts of Mexico.
“Adopting a law that legalizes abortion in a Catholic country as big as Argentina will energize the struggle to ensure women’s rights in Latin America,” said Juan Pappier, a senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Although there will certainly be resistance, I think it’s fair to predict that, as it occurred when Argentina legalised same sex marriage in 2010, this new law could have a domino effect in the region.”
Until now, Argentine law has only allowed abortion when there is a serious risk to the health of the mother or in cases of rape.
Pro-choice groups argue that criminalising abortion harms women from the most vulnerable groups who they say are instead often forced to seek dangerous illegal abortions.
Argentina’s powerful Catholic church argues the practice violates the right to life. Argentina is the birthplace of Pope Francis.
A change in the law was narrowly defeated in a Senate vote in 2018 after being approved in the lower house, but the latest bill was the first to have the backing of the ruling government.