ROME — After a two-year debate in Congress, Chile’s constitutional court has voted to approve a bill lifting the country’s total ban on abortion. The measure, that had the full support of President Michelle Bachelet, was criticized by the bishops, who said it “offends the conscience and the common good of the citizens.”
The legislation also gives no exemption to religious institutions, and conscience rights are offered only limited protection.
In a statement released on Monday after the court’s decision, the bishops pledged to redouble their efforts to continue accompanying women who live their pregnancies in extreme situations, both those who decide to see their pregnancies through and those who think abortion is a solution.
In their message, the bishops said that from an anthropology that puts the right to life at the center of social coexistence, it is “incomprehensible to reason that such a decision has been made.”
At the same time, they write, from a perspective of the faith professed by “an important part of Chilean society,” the resolution adopted “offends the conscience and the common good of the citizens.”
They add that society as a whole loses with the legalization of abortion in Chile, even if it’s only under certain conditions: “We are confronted with a new situation in which some unborn human beings are left unprotected by the State in this basic and fundamental right.”
The note, signed by the heads of the Chilean bishops’ conference, also says that from this point on, “our option for life is translated in redoubling our effort to continue accompanying women who live with their pregnancies in extreme situations, those who choose to see it to term, and those who think abortion is a solution.”
“The Church, the people of God at the service of all, particularly the weakest ones, always offers her hands and extends its embrace in the service of all those who need peace, shelter, support and comfort,” they write.
The new bill says that abortion is justified if the baby is conceived in rape, if the mother’s life is at risk, or if the baby is not expected to survive the pregnancy.
It also says that only doctors — not nurses and other hospital personnel — are protected by the right to conscientious objection, though if the baby was conceived in a rape and the 12-week deadline for the abortion is close, or if the life of the mother is in imminent risk, the doctor loses his right.
Institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, cannot object.
Chile legalized abortion for “medical reasons” in 1931, but military ruler Augusto Pinochet prohibited the termination of pregnancies in 1989.
For this reason, when the bill was passed, Bachelet celebrated it as a “victory for democracy.” Many local observers see this as her “swansong” as she prepares to leave office. In a speech after the court ruling, she said that the women in Chile have “reconquered” the right to “decide for ourselves.”
The court heard the arguments of more than 130 concerned organizations before making its ruling on Monday.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. Furthermore, “Cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.”
Pope Francis has been determined to be less vocal than his predecessors on the “culture wars,” once even saying that he didn’t need to talk much about abortion, gay marriage, and so on, because people already “know perfectly well what the Church’s position is.”
However, when he does talk about abortion he’s often more blunt about it than St. John Paul II or emeritus Pope Benedict XVI ever were.
Speaking to Italian media TV2000 and Blue Radio last November, he called abortion a “grave sin” and a “horrendous crime.” The full quote reads, “I was thinking on the attitude of sending the kids back before they’re born, this horrendous crime, they send them back because it’s better like that, because it’s more comfortable, it’s a great responsibility — it’s a very grave sin,” Francis said.