ROSARIO, Argentina – Pope Francis got himself involved with the ongoing debate over the decriminalization of abortion in his Argentinian homeland, sending a handwritten letter to a group of women from Buenos Aires’ slums asking, “Is it fair to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?”

The pope’s handwritten letter is a direct response to mothers from some of the largest slums in his former archdiocese. The women sent him the letter last week, asking for him to be their voice in the debate over abortion currently taking place in Argentina.

Last week, President Alberto Fernandez presented a bill to Argentina’s Congress, calling on it to make abortion “legal, safe and free” across the nation.

If adopted, the legislation would allow girls as young as 13 to get an abortion without their parents’ consent, abortion on demand would be legalized until the 14th week of the pregnancy, and a termination would be allowed at any point of a pregnancy if it was determined endanger the physical or psychological life of the mother or if it was the result of sexual abuse.

Fernandez has long argued that the legalization of abortion would be a solution for women who live in poverty and cannot afford to have a termination at a private clinic. This, they argue, would curb the number of deaths due to illegal abortion.

Numbers from 2017 – the latest data available – show that around 40 women die annually in Argentina due to abortion, both natural and induced.

Earlier this week, Fernandez had said that even though he’s Catholic, he sees abortion as a matter of public health, adding that he hoped Pope Francis wouldn’t become angry at him for his push to legalize it.

In his Nov. 22 letter, Francis argued that the issue of abortion “is not primarily a religious matter but a matter of human ethics, preceding any religious confession.”

“And it’s good for us to ask two questions,” he wrote. “Is it fair to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem? Is it fair to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?”

Though Pope Francis has often spoken against abortion – even asking those two questions – this is the first time he has directly addresses the pro-abortion campaign in his home country.

Francis sent his response through Victoria Morales Gorleri – a member of the Argentine Congress who belongs to Pro, the major opposition party. She was also the intermediary for the women from the “slums of misery,” as shantytowns are called in Argentina.

“We write to your Holiness, with the desire to ask for you to help us express to public opinion that we feel prisoners in a situation where our own family is compromised, as are our teenage daughters and future generations, that grow old with the idea that our life is not wanted and that we don’t have a right to have children because we are poor,” the women wrote on Nov. 18. (Bold and underline in the original.)

“We ask for your help in making our voice heard, surely you will be listened to with more attention that that our politicians give us,” they continued.

“Our voice, like that of unborn children, is never heard … They classified us as a ‘factory of the poor’ or ‘workers of the State’. Our reality as women who overcome life’s challenges with our children is overshadowed by women who claim to represent us without us giving our consent, stifling our true positions on the right to life. They do not want to listen to us, neither the legislators nor the journalists. If we did not have the slum priests who raise their voices for us, we would be even more alone,” the letter added.

Their letter was signed by eight women activists who met in 2018, when the legalization of abortion was being discussed by Argentina’s Senate for the first time in 12 years. Since then, they’ve opened three soup kitchens: “No one asked us to do this; we do it because we know that our contribution is important and because, though we don’t have things to spare, what we have is shared and multiplied.”

In his handwritten response, Francis thanked Morales Gorleri and the women for writing to him.

“They truly are women who know what this life is. Please, tell them from my part that I admire their work and their witness; that I thank them from the heart what they do and to carry on,” the pope wrote.

“The homeland is proud of having women such as these,” he continued.

On Saturday, leaders of Argentina’s pro-life movement have called for a national rally – to be held in over 50 cities –  in support of what they call the “defense of both lives”: The unborn baby and the mother.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are asked to hold processions inside their cars, or if they don’t have access to a vehicle, by wearing a facemask and keeping a safe social distance.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma