BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine President Alberto Fernández sent a bill to Congress to decriminalize abortion, despite Catholic objections.

In anticipation of the abortion bill being proposed, Argentina’s bishops blasted the president’s plans for decriminalization as “untenable and inappropriate” — both on ethical grounds and the timing during a pandemic.

Fernández presented the bill Nov. 17 and said via video “that the state must accompany women in their maternal projects.” That included “caring for the lives of those who decide to interrupt their pregnancy,” he added.

The president also said the bill was an attempt at removing abortion from clandestine circumstances, adding that around 38,000 women are hospitalized each year “due to abortions.” It would allow abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and at any time in the case of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger.

Part of the proposal, Fernández said, would provide assistance to pregnant women and their families — including child support payments — to avoid abortions for economic reasons. The South American country has suffered a severe economic downturn in recent years, which was made worse during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Argentine bishops’ conference has cited the economic crisis and pandemic in its opposition, saying in an Oct. 22 statement, “There is no place for thinking of legislative projects that contradict the discourse that puts taking care of all Argentine as priority.”

On Nov. 17, the conference retweeted the Oct. 22 statement. The bishops’ communications director, Father Máximo Jurcinovic, who said it was a “totally valid message on this day.”

The statement read: “The general public health situation, posed by this painful point in time, makes it untenable and inappropriate to present and discuss a law of this kind. … Not taking care of all lives, all throughout those lives, would be a very serious shortcoming for a state that wants to protect its inhabitants.”

The statement continued, “The pandemic has alerted us that the state must ensure public health. That’s to say, taking care of all human life.”

Fernández, who has enjoyed cordial relationship with Pope Francis and requested church participation in responding to the pandemic, promised in his successful 2019 campaign to push for decriminalizing abortion if elected. He announced plans in March to send a bill to congress within 10 days, but postponed sending it due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fernández’s predecessor, Mauricio Macri, also sent a bill to decriminalize abortion to congress, but it was narrowly defeated in 2018 by the senate.

Mariano De Vedia, an editor and religion writer with the newspaper La Nación, said the bishops have had a good relationship with Fernández, despite the abortion proposal. He said the vote in the senate would again be close.