Argentina braces for abortion vote in Pope's homeland

Anti-abortion activists carry a "Yes To Life" banner during a protest in Buenos Aires.

(CNN)Carolina Morales, a 24-year-old from Mendoza, Argentina, was 18 when she found out that she was pregnant.

At seven weeks into her pregnancy, with the support of her mother and sister, she took Misoprostol -- a medication often used to cause abortions. She kept the illegal procedure a secret for years, fearful of what the repercussions might be.
"Six years ago, no one would talk about this," Morales, now a vocal member of Argentina's abortion rights movement, told CNN. "After so many years ... we are taking our fight where it should be: the country's Senate, the place where the state should protect and be responsible for vulnerable women."
    Argentina's Senate is set to vote Wednesday on a bill that would legalize elective abortion in the predominantly Catholic country, homeland of Pope Francis.
    An aerial view of a protest against abortion legalization organized by the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches in Argentina.
    The bill, which has fueled contentious debate in Argentina, would expand abortion rights to allow women to end a pregnancy in the first 14 weeks. Current laws allow the procedure only in cases of rape, or when the mother's health is at risk.
    The legislation faces a razor-edge vote in Argentina's more conservative Senate after it was narrowly passed by the lower house of Congress in June. And it has lost some momentum after an opposition senator withdrew her support over the weekend.
    People demonstrate against the bill under the slogan "Let's Save Both Lives" in Buenos Aires.
    Abortion rights activists say the bill's approval would be a watershed moment for Latin America, where more than 97% of women of reproductive age live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank focused on reproductive rights. If passed, Argentina would become only the fourth country in Latin America to broadly legalize abortion, after Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana.
    But the bill faces stiff opposition.
    While Pope Francis hasn't addressed the legislation directly, he did speak out strongly against abortion just days after the bill was approved by the lower house -- comparing abortion to avoid birth defects to Nazi eugenics. The pontiff also issued a letter in March, as the abortion debate began, urging Argentines to "make a contribution in defense of life and justice."
    "Abortion is the ultimate red line for the church," Celia Szusterman, trustee of the UK board of Pro-Mujer and director of the Latin America program at the Institute for Statecraft, told CNN. "It's clear that, for the Pope, it would be a personal humiliation if his home country, Argentina, votes in favor of decriminalization."
    Activists in favor of legalizing abortion march in Buenos Aires dressed as women from Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale."