BUENOS AIRES – The Argentine Senate began on Wednesday to debate a bill to decriminalize abortion that was approved in June by the lower house.
The debate is expected to last several hours and the vote might not take place until the wee hours of Thursday.
Outside Congress, thousands of supporters and opponents of the bill gathered amid heavy security to follow the deliberations taking place inside the building.
Based on their public statements, 38 of the 72 senators oppose the bill and 31 support it, while three have yet to indicate how they plan to vote.
The legislation that passed the lower house on June 14 decriminalizes abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Current Argentine law allows abortion only in cases of rape or danger to the life of the mother.
One of the main arguments of those who support the idea that abortions should be “safe, legal and free” is that an estimated 500,000 clandestine abortions take place every year in Argentina, becoming the first cause of maternal deaths in 17 of the country’s 24 provinces.
Pro-life organizations, for their part, argue that abortions are a “social failure” and call for improved sex education.
This issue has historically provoked a sharp division in the country and the bill arrived on the Senate floor after an unprecedented series of public hearings where lawmakers from both chambers listened to the views of hundreds of men and women, including scientists, artists, religious leaders, physicians, and lawyers.
Party leaders have given legislators the freedom to vote their consciences on the issue.