ROME – As Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez prepares a bill not only to legalize abortion, the leadership of the Catholic Church is preparing to fight back with a seemingly more active role than in 2018, when the conservative president at the time opened a debate over decriminalization.

On Sunday, the UN’s International Women’s Day, Catholics and non-Catholics in Argentina have been invited to gather in Lujan, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, home of the country’s largest Marian shrine, for a Mass under the motto, “Yes to women, Yes to Life.”

Though the Mass is organized by the bishops’ conference, several leaders of other religions and even atheists who’ve become points of reference in the pro-life campaign have publicly announced they will be attending.

In 2018, Argentina’s congress blocked a bill decriminalizing pregnancy termination. During a months-long debate, constitutional experts argued that such a measure would contradict the country’s 1994 constitution, which protects human life from the moment of conception and declares any attack on human life a crime.

Touting the benefits of “granting rights” to Argentine women, Fernandez has argued that making abortion free and available in every public hospital is about “making a better society.” He’s also attacked what he’s described as “hypocrites” of the pro-life movement, identified with the light-blue handkerchiefs they brandish.

Among the bishops who’ve clashed with the president is Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez of La Plata, widely considered as one of Pope Francis’s ghostwriters.

“It hurts a lot to see that you firstly quote Francis and then talk about ‘hypocrisy’ to refer to those who defend life from conception,” the archbishop said in a recent message directed at the president. “Does that ‘hypocrisy’ also refer to Francis?”

“[President Fernandez] does not realize that [with abortion] he wins the applause of some, but he puts his finger on the still-open wound of half of the Argentines,” the prelate argued, referring to the pro-life movement that took to the streets in 2018, and at a national level, had a more visible presence than the pro-abortion side, identified with green handkerchiefs.

“For me, a human being has an inviolable dignity beyond his development,” Archbishop Fernandez wrote. “That is the ultimate foundation of the defense of human and social rights. And that is the same understanding Pope Francis has, as he’s clearly expressed several times.”

Though the actual bill is still being drafted, it’s believed it will not allow for conscientious objection either for professionals or institutions, even private, church-run ones.

The archbishop, former rector of Argentina’s Catholic University, acknowledged he agrees with some of the ideas of the president, but said that when it comes to abortion, if the bill “does not even take into account the extensive 2018 debate, then the message becomes that parliamentary debates are useless.”

According to sources in the bishops’ conference, the plan is to delegate political mobilization and rallies to the laity, much like 2018, but to have a more active role in the debate this time around. Back then, only one bishop and one priest, both from the “slum priests” movement, spoke during parliamentary debates. They also plan to promote Francis’s pro-life message via social media.

On March 28, an umbrella coalition of pro-life organizations, including the Catholic Church and the Union of Evangelical Churches of Argentina, will stage a rally in downtown Buenos Aires. The Union of Evangelicals (ACIERA) also has declared itself in a “state of alert and mobilization” regarding the government’s pro-abortion announcements.

The date was chosen as the Saturday nearest to March 24, a day in which Argentina marks a “National Day of the Unborn Child” instituted in the early 1990s.

Catholics and Evangelicals also have been asked to “pray together” on March 22, according to a statement released by the bishops’ conference and ACIERA under the heading of, “Christians pray together.”

“Catholics and evangelicals feel the need to come together and elevate our prayer to Christ, the only intercessor before the Father of all,” the statement said. “We summon believers, in each parish and temple, together with all who love the innocent unborn life, to unite in prayer and in a single feeling throughout Argentina.”

In a joint statement released by several law schools of Catholic universities from Argentina, professors argued against presenting abortion as a “public health” policy.

“We are facing a ‘public health’ policy that, based on the fallacy of considering a crime as a right, intends to place the resources of the state at the service of the elimination of a life upon request,” they argued.

The pro-life organizations are planning to prepare a protest for March 28, in front of the law school of the University of Buenos Aires, a Church-sponsored “Day of the Unborn Child.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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