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For Abortion Activists In Argentina, A Campaign Waged Online Faces A Disconnect

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Women protest in Buenos Aires on Thursday in support of decriminalizing abortion as Argentine lawmakers debated the measure, which was defeated in the Senate.

It's a sunny day, and a woman walks past a young man on the street. He mutters an obscene catcall. In the video, the woman smiles and says, "Thank you!" But then, the camera pans to her fantasy. What she really wishes she could do: the video goes on to show her in her imagination, pulling out a knife and stabbing him.

It's a comedy skit. A dark one. Since it was published on YouTube in 2014, it's gotten over 1.3 million views, and catapulted Argentine comedian Malena Pichot to Internet fame. She's part of a wave of young Latin American feminists who have very skillfully used social media to get the message out, and take down long-held sexist traditions.

Warning: This video contains profanity in Spanish and graphic violence.

"Every day, I have girls on the street approaching me," says Pichot, "telling me that they are feminists because they saw some skit of mine. I mean clearly, outside of television, online, in life, something is undeniably happening with the feminist movement."

The digital feminist movement first tackled harassment, kind of Argentina's #MeToo moment. But it quickly pivoted to something more divisive: legalizing abortion.

Abortion is banned in Argentina, a predominantly Catholic country, in all circumstances except for pregnancy from rape or when it puts a woman's life in danger. Indeed, abortion is largely illegal in most of Latin America. Yet women seek an estimated 500,000 clandestine abortions in Argentina every year.

The hashtag #AbortoLegalYa, or #LegalAbortionNow, took over Argentine Twitter and Facebook. On Instagram, a stencil went viral: of a coat hanger and the word "goodbye."

Over the last few months, women showed up in droves in downtown Buenos Aires, and around the country, wearing green handkerchiefs symbolizing the cause, demanding a change.

Conservatives fought back. They had their own symbol, a light blue handkerchief, the color of the Argentine flag. They too went on social media with the anti-abortion hashtag #SaveBothLives.

And then, the holiest of all Argentines, Pope Francis himself weighed in with an Instagram post of himself, holding a baby, captioned, "The divine gift of life must be promoted, guarded, and protected from conception to its natural end."

The final vote was announced in the Argentine Senate on Thursday morning: Voting 38-31, they decided to keep the near-total ban on abortion. Had the bill passed, Argentina would have allowed terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, becoming one of the only countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where abortion is legal.

"I have never felt prouder of my country," tweeted one woman, an opponent of abortion.

Another activist tweeted bitterly: "Go home and rest, senators. Tomorrow you can send your lovers to abort at a private clinic."

That was retweeted several thousand times, but as the Argentine feminist movement found out Thursday, online support doesn't always translate into political victory.

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