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BUENOS AIRES: Argentina’s senators on Thursday voted against legalising abortion in the homeland of Pope Francis, dashing the hopes of women’s rights groups after the bill was approved by the legislature’s lower house months earlier.

The vote, with 38 against, 31 in favour and two abstentions, capped a marathon session that began the day before and stretched into the early hours of Thursday.

Cabinet chief Marcos Pena ruled out putting the issue to referendum, saying the process chosen to decide the issue was “a parliamentatry debate”.

The vote in Argentina followed a referendum in May in Ireland, another traditionally Catholic country, that paved the way to legislate for the termination of fetuses. It also came after months of heated campaigns on the polarising issue.

The Argentine bill was passed by Congress’s lower house in June by just 129 votes to 125, but was widely expected to fall short of the votes needed to pass in the Senate. Lawmakers must now wait a year to resubmit the legislation.

“The debate will continue,” said President Mauricio Macri, who praised “a mature parliamentary debate”. Although pronouncing himself “in favour of life”, Macri had been largely responsible for pushing the bill to a vote in parliament.

He promised to increase sex education in schools and the distribution of contraceptives. “The problem is there and we have to keep working hard so that all these girls will have the possibility to choose and plan their lives,” he said.

Currently, abortion is allowed in Argentina in only three cases, similar to most of Latin America: rape, a threat to the mother’s life or if the fetus is disabled.

The bill had sought to legalise abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and would have seen Argentina join Uruguay and Cuba as the only countries in Latin America to fully decriminalise abortion.

It is also legal in Mexico City. Only in the Central American trio of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua does it remain totally banned.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018