Argentina Senate votes down abortion decriminalization bill

IMAGE: CNS photo/Agustin Marcarian

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — The Argentine
Senate voted against a bill that would have decriminalized abortion during the
first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Senators voted 38-31 against the
measure early Aug. 9 following a 15-hour debate. The measure had been approved in
June by the lower house of Congress.

The Argentine bishops’ conference
hailed the vote, saying the debate in the country opened an opportunity for
dialogue and a chance to focus more on social ministry.

The Senate debate revealed deep
divisions in Argentina, where support for decriminalizing abortion drew
stronger support in Buenos Aires, the capital, than in the more conservative
provinces. Observers attributed that difference to the bill being voted down in
the Senate, which includes more representation from outlying areas.

The vote came as a movement of women
and supporters of the measure — wearing green handkerchiefs — filled the
streets outside the Congress as voting occurred. Catholics, meanwhile,
celebrated the Eucharist.

“Everyone has time to express
their viewpoints and be heard by legislators in a healthy democratic exercise.
But the only ones that didn’t have an opportunity de make themselves heard are
the human beings that struggled to be born,” Cardinal Mario Poli, Pope Francis’
successor in Buenos Aires, said Aug. 8 in his homily at a what organizers
called a “Mass for Life.”

an acknowledgment that the church could be doing more to work with women, Cardinal
Poli said, “We have done little to accompany the women when find
themselves in tough situations, particularly when the (pregnancy) has is the
result of rape or situations of extreme poverty.”

In a statement after the vote, the bishops’
conference said it was time to address the “new divisions developing
between us … through a renewed exercise of dialogue.”

“We are facing great pastoral
challenges to speak more clearly on the value of life,” the bishops said.

More than 75 percent of Argentines
still consider themselves Catholic, but the opposition to the abortion bill
also came from Protestant and evangelical congregations, prompting the bishops’
conference to acknowledge that “ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious
dialogue has grown at this time of joining forces to protect life.”

Analysts in Argentina say church
opposition to the abortion bill started somewhat quietly as the measure was not
expected to pass the lower house. Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, also largely
stayed on the sidelines, except for a strong denunciation of abortion in June. At
the time he said, “Last century, the
whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we
do the same thing but with white gloves.”

“When the lower house result occurred, (the
hierarchy) started to understand something similar could happen with the
senators so the Argentine church and various movements and associations became
frontally against the bill,” said Jose Maria Poirier, publisher of the Catholic
magazine Criterio.

“It’s created tension” in the Argentine church “that
the pope has not intervened directly,” he added.

Argentine President
Mauricio Macri had promised to sign the bill into law had it been approved. Observers
said the relationship between the Catholic Church and Macri had deteriorated
somewhat as the pope’s statements on economic matters were not well received as
president tried to implement difficult economic reforms in recent months.

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