BUENOS AIRES — Lawmakers in Argentina’s lower house of Congress on Thursday narrowly approved a bill to legalize abortion, giving proponents a hard-fought victory in a battle that now moves to the Senate.

After a deeply divided hearing that began Wednesday and lasted more than 22 hours, backers of the measure to allow women to terminate pregnancies during the first 14 weeks prevailed with 129 votes in favor and 125 against.

Lawmakers who favored the measure erupted in cheers inside the assembly. Outside, women shed tears of joy and popped open champagne bottles.

The vote sets the stage for a new contentious debate, this time before the Senate, which is regarded as the more conservative of the country’s two legislative bodies.

During the minutes leading up to the vote, when the outcome was still uncertain, women gathered outside of Congress shivered in the cold as lawmakers made their final interventions.

“It’s exciting to be here,” said Julieta Ortiz, a 24-year-old teacher, who was bundled in a thick blanket. “Beyond the law itself, it’s amazing to be here surrounded by a true movement of women who pushed for this moment to arrive.”

Opponents of the measure, who were significantly outnumbered outside of Congress, displayed a sonogram of a living fetus on a screen.

“I got goose bumps and tears in my eyes,” said María Agustina Sosa, a 27-year-old industrial engineer. “I wish those inside the chamber could have seen that; there’s no way they could say that’s not a life.”

Argentina’s abortion debate gained traction in recent months as a spinoff of a movement that began in 2015 to raise awareness about the murders of women and domestic violence.

Proponents of the bill got a boost early this year when President Mauricio Macri — who opposes legalizing abortion — told allied lawmakers they should feel free to vote their conscience.

Since then, Argentine women have organized large demonstrations that appear to have swayed public opinion on the issue.

Pope Francis, who is from Argentina, sought to shape the debate in March by issuing a letter to the Argentine people pleading for the “defense of life and justice.”

Vanina García, a 39-year-old teacher was crying as she hugged her friends about a block outside of Congress.

“I have this indescribable sense of freedom,” she said.

She and other supporters of legalizing abortion worry about their odds of prevailing in the Senate. But she said there would be plenty of time to worry about that in coming days.

“Let me enjoy this moment,” she said.

Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires and Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro



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