ROSARIO, Argentina — At the crack of dawn on Wednesday, Pope Francis’s home country of Argentina legalized abortion, after the senate approved a bill presented by President Alberto Fernandez.
Pope Francis referred specifically to the abortion debate in Argentina three times since Fernandez presented the bill in November, through three private letters that later became public. In his letters, the pope noted that the pro-life position is a “scientific” issue, and not a religious one.
The law allows minors as young as 15 to have an abortion without parental consent.
On Dec. 29, when the Senate began debating abortion, Pope Francis sent out a tweet saying that “The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God. He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love.”
Argentina’s press widely presented it as a message to the senators.
Several pro-choice senators argued that their Catholic upbringing led them to their decision, saying they were protecting the life of the mother.
As had been the case when a similar bill was rejected in 2018, the plaza in front of Congress was divided into two, with one side painted green, the color of the pro-choice campaign, and another painted light blue, the color of the pro-life movement.
The new law allows for abortion on demand up until the 14th week of pregnancy, and woman can have an abortion up to birth if her mental health is at risk, although it does not define the term.
Though hospitals and clinics can refuse to perform abortions, they must cover the expenses for a woman to receive it somewhere else.
Argentina has been divided over abortion since then-President Mauricio Macri allowed for a bill to be presented in Congress in 2018. The latest polls show between 50-60 percent of the population was opposed to liberalizing the country’s abortion laws.
Fernandez had promised to make abortion “legal, safe and free” in the campaign trail, and the first decision by his health minister was to create a protocol making abortion more widely available in the country if a pregnancy was the result of rape or the life of the mother were at risk.
On Dec. 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, the Argentine bishops had called for a day of fasting and praying in the defense of the unborn.
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez of La Plata said during his homily on that day that “what’s gestating in the womb of the woman is not another species, it’s not a phenomenon, nor a tumor, it’s a human life with its own genes and a unique identity.”
And even though the government is “trying reduce abortion to a matter of public health emergency,” he warned that “death over an induced abortion are only a tiny percentage of maternal deaths.”
“There’s so much to do, the urgency of the abortion agenda is not understood,” Fernandez said.
Many observers note Argentina’s liberalization of abortion could lead to a domino effect across Latin America, where it is largely illegal.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma