'A historic day': Jubilation for pro-choice activists as Argentina passes abortion bill

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Argentina on Wednesday became one of only a handful of Latin American countries to legalise abortion when the country's senate voted to pass the historic bill after a 12-hour debate.

The announcement prompted celebrations on the streets of the capital, Buenos Aires, where thousands of pro-choice campaigners had gathered to watch the Senate's verdict on giant screens.

"It changes everything for millions of women," Lola, a pro-choice activist, told Reuters. "This is about public health, this is not a question of morals, it is not a question of ethics, it is a question of health and therefore thousands of lives will be saved."

Previously, abortions were only allowed in cases of rape or where the mother's life was in danger.

According to the government, as many as 520,000 illegal abortions are performed each year in the country of 44 million, while every year 38,000 women are hospitalised following poorly performed illegal terminations.

However, changing the law has proved highly contentious in the largely Catholic country and earlier Wednesday and Tuesday, pro-life demonstrators had also taken to the streets to make their voices heard ahead of the senate vote.

But it was not enough to change the outcome.

"I am very excited, it is a historic day, today is historic, there is nothing more to say, it is a right earned and we are going for more, this has just begun," pro-choice activist Alue Alfonso told AFP.

Argentina now joins Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and some parts of Mexico as the only countries in the region where elective abortions are legal.