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Argentina's Senate Just Defeated A Bill That Would Have Legalized Abortion

After more than 15 hours of debate, lawmakers narrowly voted to kill the measure, which would have allowed elective abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Last updated on August 9, 2018, at 3:13 a.m. ET

Posted on August 9, 2018, at 2:59 a.m. ET

Eitan Abramovich / AFP / Getty Images

Abortion rights activists comfort one another in Buenos Aires.

Argentina's Senate rejected a bill that would have legalized abortion in the country, killing the measure in an early morning vote Thursday after more than 15 hours of debate.

The vote comes six weeks after the lower house of the Argentine Congress narrowly passed a measure that would provide access to abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, as well as in cases in which the life of the mother was at risk.

In the run-up to the bill, 37 of Argentina's 72 senators said they would oppose the bill, while 31 declared their support, ratcheting up pressure to sway undecided lawmakers. In the end, however, only one lawmaker was swayed, and the bill wound up failing 38–31, with two senators abstaining.

Argentina's president, Mauricio Macri, had previously said that despite his own antipathy toward abortion, he would abide by whatever decision the Congress reached.

If the bill had passed, it would have made Argentina the most populous Latin American country to legalize elective abortion. Currently, abortion is only legal in Argentina in cases of rape, or if the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother's health.

Complications from illicit abortions, often attempted using drugs meant to treat ulcers, are the leading cause of maternal death in Argentina and result in hospitalizations for between 45,000 and 60,000 women each year.

The bill has divided the country, prompting mass protests from people on both sides of the issue. In Buenos Aires, activists displayed their allegiances in color-coded demonstrations, with those in green waving signs in support of the measure, and those wearing the light blue of the country's flag demanding the bill be defeated.

Eitan Abramovich / AFP / Getty Images, Alberto Raggio / AFP / Getty Images

Scenes of elation from those who opposed the bill and distress from those who had hoped to see it pass unfolded after Thursday's result became apparent.

Luisa Balaguer / AP, Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Anti-abortion demonstrators celebrated outside Congress in Buenos Aires, while those who had hoped to see the bill passed appeared distressed and tearful.

Clashes broke out among demonstrators after the vote's result was announced but were quickly halted by large groups of police who were already on the scene.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

The vote has been watched as a potential bellwether in a region where seven countries still ban abortion entirely.

The debate has already spread to nearby Brazil, where the Supreme Court debated the constitutionality of the abortion ban, and Chile, where the green scarves that have become the symbol of the pro–abortion rights movement in Argentina were seen among the protesters.

Getty Images

In Argentina Sunday, women clad in the iconic — and now ubiquitous — red cloaks from The Handmaid's Tale took part in a march to urge undecided senators to vote in favor of the bill.

Margaret Atwood, the author of the dystopian novel that spawned the Hulu television series, also weighed in on Twitter, urging Argentina's vice president not to ignore the number of women who die each year from illegal abortions.

Vicepresident of Argentina @gabimichetti: don't look away from the thousands of deaths every year from ilegal abortions. Give argentinian women the right to choose! #AbortoLegalYa #QueElAbortoSeaLey #NiUnaMenos #AbortoEnSenadoYa @cdnwomenfdn @equalitynow

Though numbers vary based on methodology, it is estimated that somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 illegal abortions take place each year in Argentina.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International purchased a full-page ad in the New York Times, warning Argentina that "the world is watching."

La contratapa del New York times. The world is watching. #8A que sea ley 💚

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.