Argentina‘s Senate rejected a divisive bill that would have legalised elective abortion for pregnancies of up to 14 weeks.
Thirty-eight senators voted against the controversial legislation on Thursday following a debate that lasted more than 15 hours.
There were 31 votes in favour – falling short of the 35-vote majority needed for bills to pass – and two abstentions.
The bill had originally been passed by Congress’ lower house by a narrow margin in June.
The proposed bill provoked fierce debate in the majority Catholic country, where demonstrations for and against the legislation have taken place frequently in recent weeks.
Con 31 votos afirmativos, 38 votos en contra y 2 abstenciones se rechaza el proyecto de interrupción voluntaria del embarazo pic.twitter.com/LmUDZYwMGI
— Senado Argentina (@SenadoArgentina) August 9, 2018
TRANSLATION: With 31 votes in favour, 38 votes against and two abstentions the voluntary termination of pregnancy bill is rejected.
Thousands gathered outside Argentina’s National Congress in the capital, Buenos Aires, to watch the vote on large screens.
Anti-abortion campaigners and clergy waved Argentine flags outside Congress as the result was announced at 3am local time (0600GMT).
Many who support abortion rights also gathered to hear the result, wearing green scarves and headbands, which have become symbols of the pro-abortion cause.
“I’m still optimistic. It didn’t pass today but it will pass tomorrow, it will pass the next day. This is not over,” Natalia Carol, a supporter of the bill, told Reuters news agency.
Some pro-abortion campaigners have reacted angrily to the result, starting fires and throwing stones at police who responded with teargas and water cannon.
Several arrests have reportedly been made.
Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Buenos Aires, said despite strong feelings on both sides, the response to the results has been largely peaceful.
“It was a very bitter debate, both out on the street and in the Senate itself. There were some clashes outside Congress but by and large it went peacefully.”
Abortion is legal in Argentina only in cases of rape or when the pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s health.
According to Argentina’s health ministry, there are at least 350,000 illegal abortions in Argentina every year, but international human rights groups claim the number is likely to be much higher.
Activists estimate about 3,000 women in Argentina have died following illegal abortions since 1983, when the country’s dictatorship ended.
Ahead of the vote, Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said Argentina had a “historic opportunity” to protect the rights of women.
Amnesty International told Argentine legislators the “world is watching”.
On Wednesday a Mass for Life rally was held at the capital’s Metropolitan Cathedral, which was Pope Francis‘ church during his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“It’s not about religious beliefs but about a humanitarian reason,” Cardinal Mario Poli, the current archbishop, told the congregation.
“Caring for life is the first human right and the duty of the state”.
Prior to the vote, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said he would sign the bill if it passed, despite personally disagreeing with abortion.
On Wednesday, he said regardless of the result, the vote and the surrounding debate was a victory for democracy in Argentina.
“The importance of this vote goes far beyond the specific issue it’s intended to resolve. It shows a peaceful way of promoting and making change as a society,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook.
Lawmakers can propose a new bill in a year’s time, but it could be longer before the issue comes to a vote again.