Argentina: Easing of strict abortion laws one step closer after landmark bill approved

Abortion-rights activists celebrate as Argentina's lower house approves a bill which could legalise abortion.

Argentina's lower house of Congress has approved a landmark government-backed bill to legalise abortion on Friday morning.

It's been hailed as a historic step forward for the legislation - which could set the tone for a wider shift in conservative Latin America.

Abortion in Argentina is currently only legal in cases of rape or if the pregnancy poses a lethal threat to a woman's life.

The proposed law could allow for voluntary abortions to be carried out up to the 14th week of pregnancy.

The bill, however, still requires approval from the country’s senate in a debate expected before the end of the year - but it is backed by President Alberto Fernández.

After a marathon debate, which extended from Thursday into the early hours of Friday morning, the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina finally approved the bill - in a vote of 131 to 117 with six abstentions.

Demonstrators in favour of decriminalising abortion, who had spent the night outside the congress building in Buenos Aires, erupted with joy and embraced each other as they listened to the parliamentary speaker reading the vote’s results on screens.

Many of them wore face masks in the colour green which has become a symbol for their movement.

Hundreds of meters (yards) away, not far from the parliament building, hundreds of opponents dressed in light blue and carrying the national flag deplored the result, with some shedding tears.

Latin America has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.

Mexico City, Cuba and Uruguay are among the few places in the region where women can undergo abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy regardless of the circumstances.

Before getting elected one year ago, Fernández had promised to push for making abortion voluntary and cost-free.