Protesters have lit fires and thrown bottles at police after Argentina’s senate rejected a bill to legalise abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Thousands of pro and anti-abortion protesters in rival colours gathered in heavy rain outside Congress in Buenos Aires as politicians debated the proposal for 15 hours.
Officers fired tear gas as some protesters reacted angrily to the result, setting up flaming barricades and throwing bottles at police in riot gear.
Meanwhile, at the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral, a “mass for life” was held in support of keeping laws unchanged.
President Mauricio Macri, who is against abortion, had already said he would sign the bill after the country’s lower house chose to support it – but senators voted it down 38 to 31.
Abortion is illegal in the South American country except in cases of rape or risks to a woman’s health.
Many women, most of them poor, have dangerous and degrading abortions every year – and activists estimate 3,000 have died since 1983.
Some resort to using a clothes hanger wire or knitting needle to break the amniotic sac inside the womb, others take toxic mixtures or herbs that can prove fatal.
Supporters of the bill argued it would save lives, and the run-up to the vote sparked months of passionate debate and protest in the Catholic country.
Hundreds of doctors who opposed the bill had laid their white medical coats outside the presidential palace, while the pro-choice movement – in their signature green – held larger demonstrations and drew support from the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood and actress Susan Sarandon.
Amnesty International had told Argentinian politicians that “the world is watching”, and Human Rights Watch said the country had a “historic opportunity” to protect women’s rights.
But the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Mario Poli, appeared to speak for many when he told churchgoers: “It’s not about religious beliefs but about a humanitarian reason. Caring for life is the first human right and the duty of the state.”
The Pope also reiterated the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion this year, urging families “to accept the children that God gives them”.