Argentina's Congress debating whether to liberalize abortion laws

Women favoring the legalization of abortion chant slogans June 4 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Buenos Aires, Argentina (CNN)Thousands of people flooded the streets around Argentina's Congress on Wednesday as lawmakers inside were locked in a tense debate over whether to relax the nation's highly restrictive abortion laws.

The Chamber of Deputies began debating Wednesday over a legislation that would legalize elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. That's a huge difference from existing laws, under which women can be imprisoned up to four years for having the procedure.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on Thursday and if the bill passes, it would move to the upper house, the more conservative Senate.
The debate has drawn political activists from both sides of the issue as well as many Argentinians who say they have never taken part in any cause before this one.
    Eliana, a 40-year-old baker, joined protesters for the first time on Wednesday because she was forced to break the law in the past.
    "I had an abortion when I was 18," she said, refusing to give her last name because the practice is illegal. "I was drunk and was forced into non-consensual sex with someone I had known since I was 10."
    When Eliana wanted to get a legal abortion, a lawyer told her a judge would never approve the practice because she knew her rapist.
    "Luckily I had enough money and contacts to go to a private doctor's office and everything was done safely," she said. "But what about all the girls who can't do that? What about those who are afraid to tell anyone and don't have enough money to pay a doctor? That's why I'm here."

    Lawmakers debate bill

    The debate has changed at least one mind inside Congress. Lawmaker José Ignacio De Mendiguren tweeted that he was a Catholic but that "I will vote in favor of the law. My convictions are my own, they guide my life. But my convictions are not the truth."
    People demonstrate against the decriminalization of abortion in front of the Cathedral of Tucuman, in northern Argentina, after marching under the slogan "Save Both Lives", on June 10.