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The Argentinian Senate on Thursday rejected draft legislation that would have legalised abortion, shelving a demand that feminist groups had been pushing for more than a decade.
The lower chamber of parliament approved draft legislation, allowing abortion until the 14th week of pregnancy, in June.
But the Senate had the final word and rejected the bill by 38 votes to 31, following a 16-hour debate.
After the vote, pro-abortion protesters threw stones and bottles and lit heaps of rubbish near the entrance to parliament.
Police responded with tear gas and made several arrests.
Senators voting in favour of abortion included 2007-15 president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who said she had formerly opposed it, but that the “thousands of girls, who came out to the streets’’ in support of it recently made her change her mind.
“It is not a question of beliefs, but of a problem that exists,’’ Fernandez said.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the Congress building in the capital Buenos Aires, despite the rainy weather.
The square was divided between pro-abortion campaigners, wearing green scarves, and opponents wearing blue ones.
Rallies were also staged in Argentina’s provincial capitals.
Hundreds demonstrated in Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain and Brazil in support of Argentinian pro-abortion activists.
“Earlier, one could not question oneself about whether one wanted to be a mother. Today’s reality is different,’’ said Camila, a young pro-abortion campaigner in Buenos Aires.
“The unborn child has no voice and someone has to say it wants to live,’’ countered Lucia, in her early 20s, who was demonstrating against the deliberate termination of pregnancy.
The motto of the pro-abortion campaign was: “Sexual education to be able to decide, contraceptives in order not to abort and legal abortion in order not to die’’.
But Buenos Aires Archbishop Mario Poli said abortion would “leave defenceless and vulnerable human beings that are being gestated with no way out’’.
The Catholic Church held masses during the session of the Senate and called on Catholics to demonstrate against abortion.
Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina and ministered there for decades, earlier called the deliberate termination of pregnancy “an atrocity” and compared it with Nazism.
Argentina currently allows a pregnancy to be terminated only in cases of rape or risk to the mother’s life.
The new legislation would have allowed women to abort at public hospitals free of cost until the 14th week of pregnancy.
Such proposals can now not be presented again in Congress until the next legislative year.
President Mauricio Macri had encouraged parliament to debate the issue, despite saying that he personally was “in favour of life’’.
“It does not matter what the result will be in the vote’’, Macri tweeted on Wednesday, adding: “Today, democracy wins’’.
He called the vote “transcendental’’ and encouraged Argentinians to “accept that there are others, who think differently’’.
Civil society organisations have estimated that 500,000 illegal abortions are performed annually in the South American country, though experts have questioned the figure.
Argentina recorded 245 cases of maternal mortality in 2016, according to official figures.
Of these, 43 were due to abortions or miscarriages.