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  • Argentina abortion vote

image copyrightReutersimage captionStreet rallies have been part of the campaign to legalise abortion i Argentina

Argentina's President Alberto Fernández is to present a new bill to Congress on legalising abortion – a campaign pledge delayed by the coronavirus outbreak.

He says the measure will help save lives, as every year almost 40,000 women are treated in hospital after botched illegal procedures.

Abortion in Argentina is currently allowed only in cases of rape, or if the mother's health is in danger.

It is largely prohibited across Latin America, except in restricted cases.

If the bill is passed, Argentina – an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation – will become the largest country in the region to legalise abortion.

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Mr Fernández, who was sworn in as president in December, had previously described abortion as "a matter of public health".

In 2018, the Senate rejected legalising abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Back then, the government did not back the proposal, and the Catholic Church was strongly opposed.

Many Argentines who have protested in their thousands for reform are hoping that the president's support this time will be decisive.

The debate surrounding abortion in Argentina was reignited last year, when an 11-year-old rape victim gave birth by C-section.

The girl, who had been raped by her grandmother's 65-year-old partner, had requested an abortion but the procedure was repeatedly delayed over questions about the identity of her guardian.

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Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana are currently the only Latin American countries to permit abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy.

While some other countries allow abortion in the case of rape or risk to the mother's life, it is completely banned in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Haiti.

In El Salvador, dozens of women have been imprisoned for the deaths of their foetuses in cases where they say they suffered miscarriages or stillbirths.