Argentina’s Senate passed a law legalizing abortion early Wednesday after a marathon 12-hour session, a victory for the women’s movement that has been fighting for the right for decades.
The vote means that abortion will be legalized in Pope Francis’ homeland up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and also will be legal after that time in cases of rape or danger to the mother’s life. It will have repercussions across a continent where the procedure is largely illegal.
The measure was passed with 38 votes in favor, 29 against and one abstention, after a session that began late Tuesday.
It was already approved by Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies and has the support of President Alberto Fernández, meaning the Senate vote was its final hurdle.
Argentina will be the largest Latin American country to legalize abortion and the vote was being closely watched. With the exceptions of Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico City, Mexico’s Oaxaca state, the Antilles and French Guiana, abortion remains largely illegal across the region.
Argentina until now has penalized women and those who help them abort. The only exceptions were cases involving rape or a risk to the health of the mother, and activists complain even these exceptions are not respected in some provinces.
Just hours before the Senate session began Tuesday, the pope weighed in, tweeting: “The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God. He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love.”
A previous abortion bill was voted down by Argentine lawmakers in 2018, but this time it was backed by the center-left government. The outcome of the latest vote, however, had still been considered uncertain. That was partly due to the fact that the political parties, including the governing Peronist movement, gave their legislators freedom to vote as they chose. Two of the 72 senators were absent, and 43 of the remaining 70 senators were men.
Outside the Senate, pro- and anti-abortion activists gathered, with the bill’s supporters wearing the color green that represents their pro-abortion movement.
Argentina’s feminist movement has been demanding legal abortion for more than 30 years and activists say the bill’s approval could mark a watershed in Latin America, where the Roman Catholic Church’s influence has long dominated.
“Our country is a country of many contradictions,” said Ester Albarello, a psychiatrist with a network of health professionals that supports the bill, who was among the demonstrators outside the congressional building. “It is the only one in the world that brought members of its genocidal military dictatorship to justice with all the guarantees. But we still don’t have legal abortion. Why? Because the church is together with the state.”
Also outside the legislature, a group that calls its members “defenders of the two lives” set up an altar with a crucifix under a blue tent. Dressed in a white smock and light-blue face mask, teacher Adriana Broni said that even if the abortion law won approval, “I will not teach that it is a right to kill, murder, a baby who has no voice.”
Supporters said the bill seeks to eradicate the clandestine abortions that have caused more than 3,000 deaths in the country since 1983, according to figures from authorities.
In addition to allowing abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, the legislation also will establish that even after that period, a pregnancy can be legally terminated if it was the result of rape or if the person’s life or integral health was in danger.
It will allow conscientious refusal to participate in an abortion for health professionals and private medical institutions at which all doctors are against the procedure. But they will be required to refer the woman to another medical center. Conscientious objection also could not be claimed if a pregnant woman’s life or health was in danger.
An intensive care nurse in Mexico City on Thursday became the first person in Latin America to receive an approved coronavirus vaccine.
Mexico began administering the first 3,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in a broadcast ceremony in which Maria Irene Ramirez, 59, got the first shot, under the watchful eyes of military personnel who escorted the vaccine shipment.
“This is the best present I could have received in 2020,” said Ramirez. ”The truth is we are afraid, but we have to keep going because someone has to be in the front line of this battle.”
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell waxed poetic, saying, “Today the stage of the epidemic and its treatment changes, to a ray of hope.”
Zoé Robledo, director of Mexico’s social security system, called it “an unforgettable Christmas. We are sure this is going to be the beginning of the end of the pandemic.”
Other doctors and nurses rolled up their sleeves in the chill morning air at outside vaccination stations in the cities of Toluca and Queretaro. The country’s 1.4 million health workers will be the first to get the shots, followed by the elderly, those with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease, and teachers.
Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Mexico was the first country in Latin America to get the vaccine, though others were close behind.
Chile also began its inoculation program Thursday, with 42-year-old nurse Zulema Riquelme getting the first jab as President Sebastián Piñera looked on.
“I am calm, happy, very excited,” Riquelme told Piñera, who noted “a lot of people have gone to a lot of effort to reach this moment.”
Chile said it had received 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and has a deal for a total of 10 million. Health workers and the elderly will be first in line.
In Costa Rica, which is the third country in the region to begin using the Pfizer vaccine, the first shot was given Thursday to Elizabeth Castillo, 91.
“This moment represents for the country the beginning of the road to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado said at the event that opened the vaccination.
Argentina, which has run into problems obtaining the Pfizer vaccine, received a flight carrying 300,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
Argentina plans to become the first country in Latin America to administer the Russian vaccine starting next week. It won’t yet be given to people older than 60 due to a lack of testing data.
Argentine Health Secretary Ginés González García vowed the Russian vaccine was safe and said it could be used on those 60 and older once Russian authorities certify it. He said 5 million more doses were expected to arrive in January.
While Mexico got only 3,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first shipment Wednesday, Ebrard said about 53,000 more doses would arrive by Tuesday, about 1.4 million doses in January and a total of about 11.75 million by mid-year.
Ebrard said two vaccines are currently undergoing Phase 3 studies in Mexico and another three are awaiting approval to start.
Other countries around the region are engaged in testing several vaccines, in studies that involve tens of thousands of volunteers.
Latin America has been among the regions hardest hit by the pandemic.
Mexico reported over 1.35 test-confirmed cases so far and 120,311 deaths, the fourth-highest toll in the world. However, estimates based on excess deaths this year suggest Mexico’s real death toll is closer to 180,000.
Argentina has 1.5 million cases and over 42,000 deaths, while Chile has seen 590,000 cases and 16,000 deaths.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health on Thursday reported 37,614 new COVID-19 cases with 691 more deaths, raising the national count to 6,204,220 with 171,460 deaths.
Brazil has the world's second-highest COVID-19 death toll, after the United States, and the third largest caseload, next to the United States and India.
After seeing a decline in daily deaths and cases since September, the Latin American country has witnessed a rise in both categories in November, accompanied by an increase in hospital occupancy in large cities.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second largest city, has seen occupancy rates at both public and private hospitals top 90 percent. Local authorities are considering reopening field hospitals to deal with the overflow of patients.
Tens of thousands of fans, many weeping but eager to honor Diego Maradona, filed past the coffin of Argentina’s most iconic soccer star on Thursday, some confronting police who tried to maintain order at the country’s presidential mansion.
Fans blew kisses as they passed Maradona’s wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential Casa Rosada, some strike their chests with closed fists and shouting, “Let’s go Diego.”
The casket was covered in an Argentine flag and the No. 10 shirt he famously wore the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different soccer teams tossed in by weeping visitors were scattered on and around the casket, reports AP.
Maradona died on Wednesday of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires where he had been recovering from a a brain operation on Nov. 3.
Open visitation, started at 6:15 a.m. after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villafañe came with Maradona’s daughters Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Verónica Ojeda, also his ex-wife, with their son Dieguito Fernando.
Jana, who Maradona recognized as his daughter only a few years ago, also attended the funeral.
Then came former teammates of the 1986 World Cup-winning squad including Oscar Ruggeri. Other Argentine footballers, such as Boca Juniors’ Carlos Tévez, showed up, too.
Some fans grew impatient as police tried to maintain order, throwing bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police outside the presidential offices in the heart of Buenos Aires. Officers at one point used tear gas to try to control them.
Shortly before noon Argentina President Alberto Fernández arrived and placed on the casket a shirt of Argentinos Juniors, Maradona’s first club as a professional.
In tears, Fernández also laid two handkerchiefs of the human rights organization Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who wore them for years to protest the disappearance of their children under the Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.
Maradona, an outspoken leftist who had an image of Argentine Revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on one bicep, was a friend of the Madres and of other human rights organizations.
The lines started forming outside the Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona’s death was confirmed and grew to several blocks. Among those present were the renowned barrabravas fans of Boca Juniors, one of his former clubs.
The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, 30, using crutches to move because of a disability.
“He made Argentina be recognized all over the world, who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina,” de Lima told The Associated Press. “Diego is the people.... Today the shirts, the political flags don’t matter. We came to say goodbye to a great that gave us a lot of joy.”
Maradona’s soccer genius, personal struggles and plain-spoken personality resonated deeply with Argentines.
He led an underdog team to glory in the 1986 World Cup, winning the title after scoring two astonishing goals in a semifinal match against England, thrilling a country that felt humiliated by its loss against the British in the recent Falklands war and that was still recovering from the brutal military dictatorship.
Many deeply sympathized with the struggles of a man who rose from poverty to fame and wealth and fell into abuse of drug, drink and food. He remained idolized in the soccer-mad nation as the “Pibe de Oro” or “Golden Boy.”
Lidia and Estela Villalba cried near the exit of the lobby. Both had a Boca Juniors shirt and an Argentinian flag on their shoulders.
“We told him we love him, that he was the greatest,” they said at the same time.
Those waiting for enter the Casa Rosada were mostly wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they struggled to keep social distancing.
Social worker Rosa Noemí Monje, 63, said she and others overseeing health protocols understood the emotion of the moment.
“It is impossible to ask them to distance. We behave respectfully and offer them sanitizer and face masks,” she said. Monje also paid her last tribute to Maradona.
“I told him: to victory always, Diego,” Monje said as she wept.
A huge mural of Maradona’a face was painted on the tiles that cover the Plaza de Mayo, near the Casa Rosada, which was decorated with a giant black ribbon at the entrance.
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro again tested positive for the novel coronavirus, said the president's office on Wednesday.
Following his third positive test, taken on Tuesday, the office in Brasilia issued a statement saying the head of state was nevertheless "in good condition."
"President Jair Bolsonaro continues to be in good condition, accompanied by the presidency's medical team. The test taken by the president yesterday, (July) 21, resulted positive," said the statement.
On July 7, Bolsonaro announced he tested positive for the coronavirus after presenting a fever and malaise, and he has been working from his residence ever since, attending no public events.
He tested positive again last week.
Bolsonaro, 65, falls within the demographic considered to be at risk of suffering from COVID-19 complications.
Brazil on Wednesday saw a record 67,860 new cases of COVID-19 in the past day, bringing its total caseload to 2,227,514.
According to the Health Ministry, the new one-day record by far eclipsed the previous one set on June 16 of 45,241 new cases.
The country's COVID-19 death toll rose to 82,771 after 1,284 more patients died in the same 24-hour period.
Another 3,795 deaths are suspected of being related to COVID-19 but have not been verified, the ministry said.
Brazil has the world's second-largest COVID-19 outbreak, after the United States, in both the number of cases and the death toll.
Southeast Sao Paulo state, Brazil's most heavily populated state, is the epicenter of the national outbreak.