Women celebrate the approval of a bill legalizing abortion by the lower house of congress, in Buenos Aires [Jorge Saenz/AP]
“Legal abortion in a hospital” sang hundreds of people outside Congress. It was a long and tense debate that lasted for 23 hours.
At times rumours took over the crowds that thought the vote was going to maintain the status quo.
But when the vote came, it was pure joy among those who have been fighting for months to shed light on one of the hushed about issues in Argentina.
“This struggle is historical and it represents so many things. Its a change in society, to be able to decide over our bodies, to win a collective battle, and that we have to continue fighting to change and transform this country.”
The law had to be modified several times before it was debated in Congress. It now says that women can have an abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and they can use their health insurance or a public hospital.
It also accelerates the process in case a woman has been raped.
For months, women, wearing green bandanas, have been taking to the streets to change a law that affects this country’s most vulnerable.
It is estimated that around half a million clandestine abortions are carried out every year. Thousands of women are hospitalised because of complications.They can also spend up to 4 years in prison if found guilty of interrupting a pregnancy.
In the last decade, Argentina has passed a series of progressive laws like gay marriage but abortion was off the table until now when society started to demand change, especially by women and young people.
WATCH: Argentina’s Congress to vote on legalising abortion
Prior to the vote, students took over public schools in Buenos Aires to increase pressure. For two months prior to the debate we heard 700 people in Congress expressing their views on abortion in Argentina.
Women who almost died, priests that work in slums, mothers who lost their daughters and doctors who say they are tired of attending women in public hospitals with complications and the problems and contradictions they have to face when that happens.
“The law says you should call the police but none of us wants to. We have the duty to save that life but everything gets very complicated,” One doctor told Al Jazeera few months ago.
On the other side is traditional Argentina resisting change. It is also the catholic church with Pope Frances at the front. Many politicians in Argentina say they oppose legalising abortion.
On Thursday the church issued a statement saying the results were upsetting and did not solve the real problems poor women face today.
“There are a lot of steps that should be taken prior to passing this law. A lot of education needs to happen. People have to know that if you do something there are consequences…, and one of those is getting pregnant”, said a pro life protester Cynthia Dosio.
Many are hoping that a change in the law will come with better sexual education in schools, more contraceptives and making it easier for families in Argentina to adopt.
The opposition, as well as allies of President Mauricio Macri, were divided on the issue. Macri has encouraged his party members to vote as they see fit even though he is personally opposed to the proposal.
Some of his followers say he is also trying to prevent the existing tense relations that exist between his Government and the Vatican.
Mariela Belski has been campaigning to change the law for years. She managed to change Amnesty’s traditional yellow colour to green during the debate.
She says that the most difficult part is yet to come. “In the Senate is quite difficult, is different. Is more easy in Congress. In the senate chamber it is going to be more difficult. The numbers are really bad at the moment but we are doing this step by step.
“A green revolution has taken over large sectors of Argentina’s society …and many are convinced the Senate won’t be an exception. Activists have managed to convince many lawmakers that legalising abortion is a matter of public health that urgently needs to be addressed.”
The big question is how the Former President Cristina Kirchner will vote as a senator. She was President for eight years and powerful enough to make history.
But she never allowed the debate to happen because she was against it. But times have changed and many of those who would have voted against are saying they have changed too.