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The Senate voted 38-29 to give millions of women access to legal terminations under a new law supported by President Alberto Fernández. The margin was expected to be much smaller.

Massive crowds of abortion rights activists and anti-abortion campaigners gathered outside the Palace of the Argentine National Congress to await the results, which came in the early hours of the morning after an overnight debate. Supporters of the bill greeted the news with loud cheers — and, in some cases, tears of joy.

Gabriela Giacomelli, whose two sisters had illegal abortions, called the scene “very emotional.”

“We have been fighting for years,” Giacomelli said. “I see young people now, though I hope they never have to abort, but if they do now they can do it safely.”

Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina and an ambassador for the global women’s rights movement She Decides, said: “Today, Argentina has made an emblematic step forward in defending the rights of women, girls and people with reproductive capacity.”

The law will legalize abortion in all cases up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion in Argentina, South America’s third-most populous country, is currently only permitted when a pregnancy results from rape or endangers the life or health of the woman.

In all other circumstances, abortion is illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Abortion advocates hope Argentina’s decision will spur similar movements in Latin America’s other Catholic-majority states.

Belski said that the move sends “a strong message of hope to our entire continent — that we can change course against the criminalization of abortion and against clandestine abortions, which pose serious risks to the health and lives of millions of people. Both the law passed by the Argentine Congress today and the enormous effort of the women’s movement to achieve this are an inspiration to the Americas, and to the world.”

Across Latin America and the Caribbean region, only Cuba, Uruguay, French Guiana and Guyana allow for elective abortions, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. In Mexico City and the Mexican state of Oaxaca, abortions are also available on request, but are severely restricted throughout the rest of Mexico.

By contrast, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname ban abortions in nearly all circumstances. Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama allow for abortion only if it’s to preserve the woman’s health or help save her life. 

While abortions remain largely restricted or illegal throughout the region, approximately 5.4 million abortions took place in Latin America and the Caribbean between 2015 and 2019, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute. Its research has found that unintended pregnancy rates are highest in countries that restrict abortion access and lowest in countries where abortion is broadly legal.

‘Troubling numbers’

Abortion has long been a divisive issue in Argentina, and the vote galvanized activists on both sides of the debate.

Abortion rights advocates wore green handkerchiefs in a movement that became known as the green wave. Anti-abortion activists dressed in blue — the color of the “save both lives” movement, and that of the national flag.

Anti-abortion activist and student Agostina López, 20, who protested against the bill on Tuesday, told CNN ahead of the vote that it signified “a complete loss of values ​​such as respect for life and for women.”

“Without the right to life none of the other rights make sense,” López said, adding that if the law passed, it would give a “false message that the killing of innocent babies is no longer a serious (matter).”

Abortion-rights activists, left, and activists against abortion, right, rally outside Argentina's Congress in the capitol of Buenos Aires on Tuesday as lawmakers debated a bill that legalized abortion.
This vote isn’t the first time the issue has gone to the Senate. In 2018, during the conservative administration of former President Mauricio Macri, an attempt to legalize abortion in Argentina passed the lower house, but was narrowly defeated in the Senate.

Brenda Austin, one of four congresswomen who introduced the 2018 bill, said she received Wednesday’s news with “great emotion,” adding that the decision is a “historical debt that our democracy owes to the rights of women.”

In recent months, the abortion rights movement received a huge boost from the support of President Fernández, who came to power last December.

In a recorded address shortly before his inauguration, Fernández pledged to “put an end to the criminalization of abortion.”

Wearing a green tie — a symbol of the abortion rights movement — Fernández said criminalizing the procedure unfairly punishes “vulnerable and poor women,” adding they were the “the greatest victims” of Argentina’s legal system.

“The criminalization of abortion has been of no use,” he said, noting that it “has only allowed abortions to occur clandestinely in troubling numbers.”

Fernández said more than 3,000 people had died from illegal abortions since 1983. No official figures are available for how many illegal abortions take place in Argentina, but the National Health Ministry estimates that between 371,965 and 522,000 procedures are performed annually.

According to a report from HRW, nearly 40,000 women and children in Argentina were hospitalized in 2016 as a result of unsafe, clandestine abortions or miscarriages.
Catholic priests hold a mass during an anti-abortion protest as lawmakers debated its legalization, outside Congress in Buenos Aires on Tuesday.

Citing National Health Ministry data, the HRW report found that 39,025 women and girls were admitted to public hospitals for health issues arising from abortions or miscarriages, and more than 6,000 were aged between 10 and 19.

Experts say the new law will allow 13- to 16-year-olds with normal pregnancies to access abortion services without a guardian. Doctors will still have the option to “conscientiously object” to performing abortions, although the law states they will have to find another doctor to do so.

The bill also uses inclusive language acknowledging that not all people who become pregnant identify as women.

Camila Fernandez, a self-identifying transgender woman, who was instrumental in the push for the bill’s language that reads “people with ability to be pregnant,” told CNN that youth and the LGBTQ community were instrumental in challenging an “adult centrist and patriarchal power that has perpetuated privileges and injustices.”

“Hand in hand with trans men and non binary people we conquered the rights that today are theirs and ours,” she said, adding that she believes the move will pave the way for additional reforms for trans people who have been historically sidelined.

A divisive campaign

Nuns demonstrate against the decriminalization of abortion as lawmakers debate its legalization, outside Congress in Buenos Aires on Tuesday.

The abortion debate has created tension in a country with deep Catholic ties.

Argentina, the birthplace of Pope Francis, has seen a gradual rise in agnosticism in recent years, although 92% of Argentinians still identify as Roman Catholic, according to the CIA.

Argentina’s constitution cements government support for the Catholic Church and recognizes Roman Catholicism as the official religion. However, a 1994 amendment removed the requirement that the president must be Catholic.

In November, Francis weighed into the debate, encouraging the anti-abortion group Mujeres de las Villas to “move forward” with their work.

In a handwritten letter addressed to congresswoman and group intermediary Victoria Morales Gorleri, Francis said “the problem of abortion is not primarily a question of religion, but of human ethics, first and foremost of any religious denomination.”

“Is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? Is it fair to hire a hit man to solve a problem?” he wrote.

On Saturday, the Church of Argentina called on the Senate to vote against the bill, with Bishop Oscar Ojea, president of the local bishops’ conference and an outspoken opponent of abortion, saying opposition was supported by “medical science and law,” Reuters reported.

On Wednesday, the Senate also passed a complimentary bill that will strengthen the social and economic safety net for pregnant individuals facing economic hardships who want to continue their pregnancies.

The “1,000 day plan” will strengthen services from pregnancy up to the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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