ROME – Thousands of faithful gathered in Argentina’s most famous shrine on Sunday to participate in a Mass and pray that a bill that would legalize abortion on-demand will not be passed.
“Abortion is not a right but a tragedy,” said Bishop Oscar Ojea, president of the local bishops’ conference, under the watchful eye of Archbishop León Kalenga Badikebele, papal representative in the country, who was among the concelebrants.
During his homily, Ojea said that the country is currently at a “delicate moment,” due to debate surrounding the proposed legislation. The bill would allow a 16-year-old girl who was raped to have an abortion up until the ninth month of pregnancy, without informing either of her parents nor the authorities.
Critics say this would help protect abusers, who would be less likely to face justice if they could arrange abortions for their victims without anyone knowing.
Passed by Argentina’s lower house, the abortion law will be debated in the Senate on August 8. The legalization of abortion in Pope Francis’s home country could cause reverberations across Latin America, where the procedure is largely illegal.
The Mass, under the motto of “At your feet we renew our hope #TodaVidaVale,” [‘Every life has value’] took place in the esplanade leading to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina and the country’s favorite pilgrimage site. Thousands from all over the country participated in the event.
The bishop said that as a Church, “we’re perplexed and hurt,” as it would be “the first time that in Argentina, during democratic times, a bill that legitimizes the elimination of a human being by another human being is passed.”
He urged legislators to “find new and creative solutions so that no woman ends up turning to a decision that is not the solution for anybody.”
“We know that it’s not always easy to welcome life as it comes, sometimes it presents itself in conflictive and distressing contexts,” he said. “Nevertheless, it’s always possible to care for and to defend that life.”
Ojea also denounced a “consumer culture” that transmits a message of “you think as you want, but allow me to do what I want.”
“It’s not true that you can do whatever you want and that we shouldn’t care,” the bishop said. “This reasoning is the result of a culture that forces us to ignore others, as if our nation was a conglomeration of individuals in which no one cares if the other is hurt.”
Many among those who defend the bill have accused the Catholic Church of trying to “pressure” the country, citing Sunday’s Mass.
However, Church representatives say the pressure works the other way, noting that the bill would force privately-owned Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, and that it only allows for individual conscientious objection but not for institutions.
Dozens of Argentina’s major hospitals have already said that they’re going to fight that requirement. Thousands of doctors have also announced that they will object.
Over 2,000 lawyers from all over Argentina presented a formal complaint about the bill to the Senate, arguing that it’s unconstitutional because Argentina’s constitution defines conception as the beginning of life. In addition, more than 700,000 signatures had been presented to the lower house, asking for a different bill that would protect the lives of both the mother and child.
The bill passed by the lower house last month would allow for unrestricted “free, legal and safe” abortion until 14 weeks. The father’s consent for the procedure is considered unnecessary and if the “physical, psychological or social” life of the mother is at risk, she could request an abortion until the ninth month of pregnancy.
Ojea also said that the Mass served as a “thank you” to all those mothers who’ve managed to “overcome very complex circumstances by choosing to care for life and to defend the child they’re carrying.”
“Men cannot feel in our body the presence of another human being that grows,” he said.
“We cannot experience it in us. It’s women who transmit to us this courage and this commitment,” he added, before urging all those present to pray so that they can “learn to be servants of life, creating suitable circumstances” for pregnant women throughout the country.
During his homily, Ojea addressed young people in particular, telling them that “we’ve received our life as a gift, and for this reason we must care for it, we’re not the owners of another human life. It’s another body, another life, over which we have no power.”
Thousands took to social media to share images of the Mass. Among them was journalist Mariano Obarrio, who on Twitter said that the “clamor of the people defends the life of the child from the womb. And it’s asking to be allowed to be born.”
— mariano obarrio (@marianoobarrio) July 8, 2018
— Marcela Campagnoli (@M_Campagnoli) July 8, 2018