Argentina has become the largest nation in Latin America to legalise elective abortion despite a last-minute appeal by Pope Francis.
After a 12-hour session the country’s senate passed the law by a comfortable 38-29 margin, two years after a similar measure failed in a close vote.
The legislation, which President Alberto Fernandez has vowed to sign into law shortly, guarantees abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy and beyond that in cases involving rape or where a woman’s health is at risk.
Tweeting after the vote, Mr Fernandez wrote: “Safe, legal and free abortion is now the law.
“Today, we are a better society that expands women’s rights and guarantees public health.”
Abortion is already allowed in Uruguay, along with Cuba and Mexico City in other parts of Latin America, but the legalisation in Argentina is expected to have a big impact in the region.
Pro and anti-abortion rights activists had gathered outside the senate building, with the bill’s mostly female supporters wearing green which has symbolised their movement.
The crowd of a few thousands cheered and hugged as Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced the result.
Hours before the senate session began, Pope Francis – Argentinian himself – had tweeted: “The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God.
“He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also criticised the decision. He tweeted: “I deeply regret for the lives of Argentinian children, now subject to being ended in the bellies of their mothers with the state’s agreement.”
A similar bill was voted down by Argentine senators in 2018 by a narrow margin. This time it was backed by the centre-left government, and was boosted by the so-called “piba” revolution from the Argentine slang for “girls”.
The feminist movement within Argentina has demanded legal abortion for more than 30 years. Supporters cite official figures which claim more than 3,000 women have died from clandestine abortions in the country since 1983.
The legislation allows health professionals and private medical institutions to opt out of the procedure, but they are required to refer the woman to another medical facility.