After 22 hours of debating it was all over; Argentina’s deputies approved the bill to decriminalize and legalize abortion, a landmark result in the struggle for gender equality which would have been unfathomable just a couple of years ago.
This historic vote has been notable for the amount of civic mobilization that it has inspired, particularly in favor of the bill. As deputies began the debate at midday, both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life demonstrators established themselves outside Congress, maintaining their vigil throughout the night and watching history being made on giant screens. They were literally on opposite sides of Congress, separated by a channel that served as a physical manifestation of their ideological divide.
Gathered on the Avenida Rivadavia were the Pro-Choice protestors, bedecked in the green pañuelos that have become emblematic of their movement, while Pro-Life protestors used the light blue of the Argentine flag for their scarves and banners. Each side had its own chants and songs, with a carnaval spirit that lasted through the early hours of the morning, both sides convinced that theirs would achieve victory.
What was particularly apparent were the differing levels of popular protest that each group had managed to solicit. The Pro-Choice movement has been a particularly potent force throughout the campaign and has been a constant presence outside Congress since the commissions started working on the bill. The crowd was densely packed with people of all ages, but with a particularly large contingent of young people, with even schoolchildren joining the protest still in uniform, forming a sea of green that only continued to swell as the sun began to set.
Meanwhile on Hipólitio Yrigoyen, the Pro-Life movement gathered in considerably fewer numbers. Even in the peak hours of the vigil this side of Congress never filled, while the Pro-Choice crowd continued to swell, stretching down Avenida de Mayo. The Pro-Life crowd was also noticeably older and religious imagery was rife: priests, nuns, and monks joined in with the chanting and many of the protestors were wearing rosaries and crucifixes. Meanwhile, the infamous bebito featured on many of the banners and flags.
As the sun set, the smell of parrilla filled the air as protestors settled in for the night. Despite the freezing temperatures, many stayed overnight, gathered around fires and huddled in doorways, warmed by the strength of their conviction. Although the vote had been predicted for the early hours of the morning, the debate continued well into Thursday, allowing the crowds to surge once again. What was gratifying to see was that despite the massive crowds, the protests never erupted into violence. People joined together in hope, to peacefully call for change.
At 10AM, the result was announced, soliciting tears of grief and of joy as protestors reacted to the historic news. Despite some last-minute vote-switching, the bill was passed by 129 votes to 125, leading to a roar of emotion outside as celebrations started on Rivadavia, providing a welcome burst of energy to protestors who had been waiting not just all night, but many years for this result. On Yrigoyen, tears of disappointment were shed as the Pro-Life movement came to terms with the result.
The bill now moves on to the Senate where it will be debated in commissions for a length of time to be established by Senators. If the bill is approved at that stage, it will be sent to the floor for debate. Should the Senate vote in favor of the bill, it will be signed by President Macri to become law.
While the prospect of getting the bill through Senate is an uphill struggle, the vigil outside Congress demonstrated how this issue has irreversibly changed Argentine society. The question of abortion is not going to fade away into the shadows and both men and women will continue to campaign for their compañeras’ right to choose. Deputies recognized this, now Senators have to wake up to reality and accept that the movement to legalize abortion is here to stay.