Buenos Aires, Argentina (CNN) -- Argentina's Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that will decriminalize abortions in cases of rape.
Tuesday's ruling will ease what has been a very strict interpretation of the tough anti-abortion laws on the books.
"The statute has been on the books more than 80 years. However, there were contradictory interpretations by lower courts throughout the country, and these interpretations, in some cases, said that women who were raped are only permitted an abortion if they are mentally challenged or demented, which is what the statute says," said Alvaro Herrero of the Association of Civil Rights. "The court made a clarification about this issue and said that in all cases in which there was rape there exists the right to an abortion."
Abortion is illegal in Argentina. As interpreted, in addition to cases of mental incapacity, the law only permitted abortions in some instances in which the mother's life was at risk.
The original case involved a 15-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped by her stepfather. A lower court ruled in March 2010 that an abortion was permissible in cases of rape, but that decision was appealed to the nation's highest court.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court clarified that Argentina's Constitution and human rights treaties would not allow such a prohibition in cases of rape.
"On the contrary, they forbid punishing all victims of rape in accordance to the principles of equality, personal dignity, and legality," the country's center for judicial information reported.
The ruling also specified that judicial authorization is not needed before performing an abortion. The only necessary declaration is the patient's statement that she was raped, the court ruled.
Despite the country's tough anti-abortion laws, the health ministry estimates that some 460,000 abortions are performed each year in Argentina. The ministry estimated that about 100 women die each year because the procedures were not carried out with the required medical expertise.
Roberto Castaneda, a member of an Argentine pro-life group, said despite the ruling, there are other options besides abortion.
"A woman who has difficulties must have assistance. Legal, medical, psychological assistance. We have to promote the adoption system. There are thousands of couples in Argentina without children and who can't have children. It is a much more humane situation than killing," he said.
The head of Argentina's bishops conference, Monsignor Jose Maria Arancedo, said he was surprised to hear of the court's decision.
"Abortion is the suppression of an innocent life, and there does not exist any motive or reason that justifies the elimination of an innocent life, not even the unfortunate case of a rape," he said.
CNN's Javier Doberti contributed to this report.