One of Pope Francis’s closest allies in his home country on Tuesday went to Argentina’s lower house to defend the life of the unborn, saying that when the most elemental human right is denied, all others “hang on a thread.”
“The logic of the powerful, who decide over those who have the least, is to make decisions over those who are underneath them, and this is so to when it comes to the unborn boy or girl,” said Bishop Gustavo Carrara, tapped by Francis last December to be an auxiliary of Buenos Aires, the diocese the future pope led before his election.
Carrara is known as a villero bishop, as he was one of the many priests in the pope’s former diocese who carry out the entirety of their ministry in the slums – living with the poor, carrying the “smell of the sheep.”
“When the most elemental right is denied, the right to live, all the other human rights hang on a thread,” Carrara said on Tuesday, during the first session of several in Argentina’s lower chamber to debate the legalization of abortion until the 14th week of the pregnancy.
Abortion is forbidden by Argentina’s constitution, which defines life as beginning at the moment of conception. It’s only permitted in cases of rape and health risks to the woman. If a bill currently being discussed were approved, however, a girl as young as 13 could get an abortion without the consent of her parents or the father of the baby.
President Mauricio Macri, who’s said he’s personally against abortion, gave permission for a debate on the measure earlier this year. It’s the first time in over a decade a bill liberalizing the country’s abortion law has been presented with expectations of actually reaching the floor.
At the moment, most observers agree that even though the bill could pass the lower chamber, it does not have enough support in Congress. However, Macri has already said that if Congress were to pass the bill, he wouldn’t veto it.
Speaking from first-hand experience, after dedicating all of his priestly ministry to working in Argentina’s slums, the forty-four-year-old Carrara, “episcopal vicar” for the slums, also said that among those debating abortion there’s a “lack of knowledge” of the culture of poor women: “the fact that for them their child is the biggest treasure is being ignored,” he said.
According to the prelate, if there’s an excuse to “eliminate an innocent life,” there will always be reasons to exclude other human beings “who disturb us.”
“When a humble woman from a slum goes to the doctor to have an ultrasound, she doesn’t say ‘I come to see my fetus,’ but ‘I come to see how my child is’,” Carrara said.
Taking into consideration that the bill currently being discussed would allow for late-term abortion of babies that present malformations, Carrara said that in many “so-called developed countries, where abortion is allowed, children are discarded because they will be born with Down Syndrome.”
Statistics show that in countries where abortion is allowed, partnered with increasingly accurate pre-natal diagnoses, almost 90 percent of children with certain forms of disability, including Down Syndrome, are systematically eliminated.
The prelate also called for policies that help and accompany mothers in “dramatic situations,” providing assistance during the pregnancy. He gave the example of slum communities where people support each other, reaching out in particular to young pregnant women.
“It’s not human to favor a weak person against one who’s even weaker,” Carrara said, addressing the argument of some of those proposing the bill in Argentina that abortion is something poor women want or need.
“For their sensitivity, it’s particularly tragic to have an abortion,” Carrara said. “The fact that for these women their children are their most precious treasure, not one of the many possibilities life can offer. This is why we see so many poor women working so hard to support their children.”
Investing in a dignified life, Carrara said, does not end with the baby’s delivery. Children must have the opportunity to grow up in a home and have access to food, education and healthcare. In a country where 30 percent of the population is poor, the bishop noted, a majority are children and adolescents. Public policy should focus on them and invest in their future, he said.
If abortion backers actually want to help poor women, Carrara said, investments should be made to reduce the country’s structural poverty, something he argued the state is particularly equipped to do.
“If, instead of confronting these grave [threats] against the life to be born, we do nothing but add death, it is a somber prospect,” he argued.
As a people, Carrara said, Argentina must aim higher.
“Even when it doesn’t seem the most pragmatic way out, we Argentines can resolve our problems without taking the life of an innocent person before she or he is capable of self-defense,” he said. “We could make a difference. It’s not harmless to open the door to abortion. A policy of death will only provoke more death and sadness.”
Carrara was one of several dozen people who spoke about the bill in a commission currently debating the project in Argentina’s lower chamber. Lawyers, former supreme court justices, doctors and scientists also spoke against the bill.
Speaking in favor were other lawyers and doctors, actresses and journalists, including a woman from Catholics for Choice, who called for free and legal abortion because “Catholic women have abortions, too.”
Also in favor was activist Marta Rosenberg, who said that “there is a child when a woman decides so. Neither men nor churches can [decide when].”
On Monday, Cardinal Mario Poli, who took over from Francis as archbishop of Buenos Aires, led a Mass in honor of the unborn child that takes place every year on the feast of the Annunciation. Usually celebrated on March 25, nine months before the birth of Jesus on Christmas, this year the celebration was transferred to April 9 because it fell on a Palm Sunday.
Contemplating the Annunciation, Poli said in a Buenos Aires cathedral, “we confess that life is the most beautiful and real gift we humans have,” and also that it’s sacred, because God considered it “worthy of His divinity.”
Quoting Francis’s 2014 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Poli said that it’s a matter of “internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person … the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question.”
“This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations’,” Poli said, still quoting his predecessor. “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty.”
When he was still Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis supported the initiative known as A Rosary for Life, that includes a Mass in the cathedral and Eucharistic adoration.