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Activists in Argentina launch new bid to legalize abortion

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Buenos Aires (AFP)

Activists and lawmakers in Argentina relaunched a bid to legalize abortion on Tuesday with a new bill before Congress and a major demonstration planned, resuming a battle that has divided the homeland of Pope Francis ahead of October's general election.

Last year, a bill to decriminalize abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy was narrowly adopted by the Chamber of Deputies but defeated in the Senate, under strong pressure from the still-powerful Catholic Church.

The new bill is being put forward by 15 lawmakers from a range of parties, including President Mauricio Macri's ruling center-right Cambiemos coalition and left-wing opposition parties.

Thousands of women planned to hold a major demonstration outside the Congress building in central Buenos Aires to mark the revival of their campaign, hoping for a better ending than they experienced last year.

Victoria Tesoriero, leader of the Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, said activists would keep the pressure on lawmakers during the election campaign, in which a third of Senate seats and half of those in the lower house will be contested.

"Presenting the new bill is not only a return to the offensive for abortion rights, but to put pressure on the party lists to make sure that every candidate clearly states their preference," said Tesoriero.

In raucous scenes outside Congress last August, abortion rights campaigners, wearing the green scarves that have come to symbolize their movement, wept and hugged while fireworks and shouts of joy erupted among anti-abortion activists as the Senate's defeat of the measure was announced.

- Part of society -

"This time, the issue is already well embedded in society," said Tesoriero. "It will be a more natural question for candidates, who will have to say what position they will take to Congress."

In Argentina, abortion is only allowed in case of rape, a threat to the mother's life or if the fetus is deemed non-viable.

But many doctors and some provincial governments are reluctant to apply the law, recently forcing an 11-year-old rape victim to continue her pregnancy, debating the issue until the legal window for an abortion had passed.

Authorities who refused to allow the family's demand for an abortion eventually allowed a cesarean section to be carried out at 23 weeks.

The pope, a former archbishop of Buenos Aires, last year compared having an abortion to hiring a "contract killer."

"Getting rid of a human being is like resorting to a contract killer to solve a problem," Francis said in an address to worshippers at the Vatican in October.

Various charities estimate that 500,000 illegal, secret abortions are carried out every year in Argentina, resulting in the deaths of about 100 women.

The renewed push in Argentina comes amid efforts by some Republican-led states in America to row back on abortion, legal nationwide since 1973, under the presidency of Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, the US state of Alabama signed the most restrictive abortion law in the country, providing for a near-total prohibition, even in cases of rape and incest.

Under the measure, expected to come into effect at the end of 2019, performing an abortion is a crime that could land doctors in prison for up to 99 years.

The states of Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri have also tightened their abortion laws.

The state bans have so far either been blocked by a judge or are headed for the courts.

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