March 6, 2018 / 4:36 PM / in 8 months

Argentina lawmakers present bill to legalize abortion

A man stands next to a grafitti that reads "Legal abortion to not die" outside the Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Dozens of Argentine lawmakers of all political stripes presented a bill to legalize abortion on Tuesday, launching a debate that promised to divide a deeply Catholic nation.

Amid cheers from activists, around 70 members of the lower house of Congress unveiled a bill that would allow women in Argentina to interrupt pregnancy during the first 14 weeks, according to a copy of the proposal seen by Reuters.

While Argentina’s Congress has debated abortion before, the topic has garnered more attention since center-right President Mauricio Macri said he was in favor of debate and would encourage his allies in Congress to vote as they saw fit even though he was personally opposed.

Argentina, like most countries in Latin America, currently permits abortion in specific cases, including rape and risk to the mother’s life. Rights groups have criticized a requirement for a judge’s permission, which often results in lengthy delays or denial of the procedure.

An issue that has divided political parties, the abortion proposal could pass the lower house but will likely face resistance in the more conservative Senate.

The bill emphasizes the danger Argentine women face in seeking clandestine abortions, particularly poor women. About a third of maternal deaths in the country are related to such procedures, the bill says.

“This is a topic of equality and inequality, because those who do not have money pay with their health or their bodies,” said opposition lawmaker Aracelia Ferreyra during the presentation of the bill.

Argentina’s neighbor Uruguay is an outlier in Latin America in permitting abortions. A Chilean court last year upheld a law legalizing abortion in certain cases. Chile had been one of only a handful of countries worldwide where the procedure was banned without exception.

Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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