As of Tuesday, abortion was illegal in Argentina except in cases of rape or where the health of the woman was at risk. A person seeking an abortion in the Catholic-majority country for any other reason could've face up to 15 years in jail. But that changed early Wednesday. Following an overnight debate, Argentina's Senate voted 38-29 to legalize abortion in all cases up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Many abortion rights activists, decked out in green outside the Senate building in Buenos Aires, cheered or cried tears of joy as the results were announced around 4am. "We have been fighting for years," said Gabriela Giacomelli, whose two sisters had illegal abortions, per CNN. "I hope [young people] never have to abort, but if they do now they can do it safely." The National Health Ministry estimates that between 371,965 and 522,000 illegal abortions are performed each year.
"Never again will there be a woman killed in a clandestine abortion," said Vilma Ibarra, the legal and technical secretary for the presidency, who penned the new law, per Reuters. A similar one was defeated in the Senate in 2018 under President Mauricio Macri's conservative leadership. This time, President Alberto Fernandez gave his support. He'd vowed to "put an end to the criminalization of abortion" before his inauguration a year ago. He also said 3,000 people had died from clandestine abortions since 1983. Despite opposition from the dominant Catholic Church, activists hope other countries in the region will now follow suit. El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Suriname ban almost all abortions, while Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama only permit abortion if the woman's health is at risk, per CNN. (Read more abortion stories.)