Months of impassioned public debate, colorful protests and determined counter-demonstrations are coming to a head today in Argentina, where the Senate is set for an historic vote on whether or not to legalize abortion.
The high-drama session comes nearly two months after the country's lower house opted narrowly — following a marathon, 22-hour debate — to approve the measure, which would allow women to legally terminate a pregnancy through the first 14 weeks.
The issue has divided the South American country, and even prompted a pronouncement by Argentina-born Pope Francis, who strictly opposes abortion. But polls suggest a slight majority in Argentina support legalization. And the bill's passage through the legislature has sparked a visible youth movement, as Buenos Aires-based journalist Irene Caselli writes for the German news service Deutsche Welle.
Only three nations in the region allow abortion without restrictions.
The supporters' symbol of choice is a green bandana marked with the words: "Sexual education to decide, contraceptives to prevent abortion, legal abortion to prevent death."
Today's vote has major implications for Latin America as a whole: Only three nations in the region — Cuba, Guyana and Uruguay — allow abortion without restrictions, and several, including Nicaragua and El Salvador, have blanket bans, meaning women are barred from terminating pregnancies even in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is at risk.
Neighboring Chile had a no-exceptions ban until just last year but still outlaws abortion in "normal" circumstances. During a pro-abortion demonstration held in Santiago late last month three women were stabbed by hooded attackers, Chilean news sources reported.
The pending decision in Argentina has also drawn attention in Colombia, which allows abortion only in cases of rape, if the fetus is deemed non-viable, or if the mother's life is at risk. An editorial in today's El Espectador, nevertheless, urges the Argentine senate to vote in favor of legalization.
Whatever the result, society will have won.
"The continent as a whole is waiting for abortion to be made totally legal and cost-free in the southern nation," the Bogotá daily writes. "Here's hoping the legislators listen to the popular outcry from the people wearing green bandanas."
In Argentina, observers say that regardless of how the vote plays out, the pro-abortion movement has forever changed the terms of debate. "Whatever the result […] society will have won," columnist Diana Baccaro writes in the Argentina daily Clarín. "Either because the senators vote well, or because the Argentine people vote better in next year's general elections."
"What does it mean for the senators to vote well? That they do so free of passions and pressures," Baccaro adds. "The only voice they should be listening to Wednesday in the Senate is their own conscience, because that's what will help build a democratic society."
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