ROME – After a tight vote 23 hours into a debate in Argentina’s lower house of the legislature in favor of an abortion law that would legalize the practice on demand until week 14 of a pregnancy, the local Catholic Church is gearing up to fight back, organizing a Mass for next Sunday at the country’s most important shrine.
The decision comes after Catholic bishops were accused of “pressuring” deputies, despite media reports that the bishops hadn’t actually done much at all. Yet at a grassroots level, lay Catholics joined rallies, took to social media, and came together under the motto, “Save them both,” referring to the mother and the child.
The special Mass will take place in the Shrine of Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina, and a famed pilgrimage site at a national level. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, today Pope Francis, used to participate in a yearly pilgrimage that sees up to a million people turn out. He would welcome the faithful in the wee hours of the morning, staying to hear confessions and say Mass.
A message that has gone viral through WhatsApp calls on all people of good will, regardless of their beliefs, to go to Lujan on July 8 to defend life, a day before a pro-abortion rally in Buenos Aires’s famed Plaza de Mayo. The idea is to make it a family day, “with no stages, no protagonists,” and with the Argentine flag as the only one on display.
At a national level, bishops are speaking up, often teaming with bishops of neighboring dioceses or leaders of other religions and other Christian denominations.
For instance, on June 25 the Catholics bishops of Argentina’s northern region released a statement saying that, “With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we have the hope that a different and inclusive path that protects every life is possible,” underlining not only the need to protect the unborn but also the poor, the vulnerable and those with disabilities.
“Without euphemisms, we affirm that what is being considered is legalizing the elimination of the most defenseless life, the one which grows in the mother’s womb,” the bishops from San Juan, Mendoza, and San Rafael wrote. “With the pretext of promoting some alleged individual rights, the right to life of unborn children is being sacrificed. This is the first human right, without which there’s no room for others.”
The bill, which has divided Argentina’s political parties, will be voted on in the Senate on August 8 after it’s debated in three commissions. According to La Nación, the country’s major daily newspaper, there are 35 senators against, 26 in favor and 11 undecided.
The bill eked out a narrow 129-126 victory on June 14 in the Chamber of Deputies, despite the fact that during the almost 22 hours of debate, informal counts had the “no” side ahead until three legislators from one province changed their minds. Soon after, it was revealed that the national government was going to send the province some $140 million in federal funds previously stuck in bureaucracy.
Despite what was decided by Vice President Gabriela Michetti, a firm defender of the protection of the life of both the mother and the unborn child, the bill for “free abortion” will not be debated before a Senate commission that deals with the budget.
From April 10 to May 31, a list of 700 people gave their reasons to either back or refute the bill, with actors, activists, journalists and politicians on one end, and doctors, scientists, lawyers and two priests on the other.
The only two Church representatives to speak before the commission set up by the Chamber of Deputies were Bishop Gustavo Carrara and Father José María Di Paola, both known for their ministry in the many slums that surround Buenos Aires. They are considered to be very close to Francis as well as to the political left in Argentina, which is the force promoting the bill, so arguably the choice to have them speak wasn’t coincidental.
Carrara gave a speech saying that the years working in the slums, which gave him the nickname of the first “villero bishop,” he’s seen that poor women don’t want abortion, but 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.
This was backed in the commission by Lorena Fernández, from a slum known as Villa 31, among the biggest in Buenos Aires. When she addressed the deputies, she said: “I’m tired that everyone (who promotes abortion) uses us who are poor, humble. I’m from Villa 31 and many like me think that an abortion is to kill. We all have more than one child. I have four.”
Di Paola made a connection between the debate of the bill and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which, at the time of his address, was negotiating with the administration of President Mauricio Macri for a loan which, in the end, was granted.
In this regard, the priest spoke of the contradiction of the members of the Chamber of Deputies who “are concerned and speaking out against the IMF, and, at the same time, are inclined to approve one of its biggest demands, abortion, to control who’s born and who’s not in the countries that have to comply to its norms.”
Abortion in Argentina today is illegal, but no woman or medical professional is in prison for practicing it. Despite an attempt to present abortion as a health emergency, statistics clearly show that abortion is far from being the first cause of maternal death in this country of 42 million. In 2016, 31 women died as a result of a provoked abortion, while three times that number died trying to deliver their child.
Beyond the voice of the Catholic hierarchy, which has been audible from the beginning but has gotten louder since the outcome in the Chamber of Deputies, many have spoken up against the bill. Opponents include a union of lawyers of Buenos Aires that claims the bill goes against the constitution, as the document clearly defines conception as the moment in which life begins and a national association of doctors, which has stated that there’s no doubt regarding when life begins.
One of many protests regarding the bill is the fact that there will be no room for institutional objection of conscience, meaning that Catholic hospitals could be forced to offer the practice.
Thousands of doctors have already stated that they won’t be forced to perform abortions, as it goes against the Hippocratic Oath they all took upon completing their studies.
“I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly, I will not give to a woman a device to cause abortion,” the oath says.
In addition to abortion on demand until week 14, if there’s any potential malformation in a child an abortion would be legal, and the bill also says that if a pregnancy was a product of a rape or if the physical, psychological or social health of the mother are at risk, the woman could ask for an abortion up to the ninth month.
A woman as young as 16 could have an abortion without her parent’s consent, or that of the father of the baby.