A key committee of Argentine legislators is launching a first-ever debate on legalizing abortion in the largely Roman Catholic country.

The proposed law would legalize abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and has been signed by about 50 lawmakers in Argentina's 257-person House of Deputies.

The debate in the congressional Commission of Penal Legislation is expected to be lengthy. Tuesday marks the final day of this year's legislative session, shifting talks into 2011.

Abortion is prohibited in Argentina except in cases of rape or when pregnancy threatens a woman's physical or mental health.