By Inés San Martín
ROSARIO, Argentina (Crux) — As the Argentine Senate gears up to vote on a bill to legalize abortion, the bishops released a searing Christmas message saying that this “feverish obsession” from the government to end the country’s protection of the unborn further darkened a bleak national situation.
“This Christmas finds us in a historical moment where we need an arduous reconstruction: Of the sources of work, of education, of the institutions, of the fraternal ties,” reads the statement released by the argentine bishops conference on Dec. 21. “Many things have been broken and need to be healed. It is time to thank the Argentine people for their patience, their cooperation, and their resistance.”
Most schools have been closed since March, and those that opened did so only for a week in December. Over half of the country currently lives under the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is at 12 percent, though only four in 10 Argentines have a full-time job.
In addition, the number of positive COVID-19 cases is again growing, with over 40,000 people having already died from the disease.
“In recent weeks the panorama has darkened: The political option has become an incomprehensible urgency, a feverish obsession to establish abortion in Argentina, as if it had something to do with the sufferings, fears and concerns of the most of the Argentines,” says the bishops’ statement. “Another thing would be to defend the human rights of the weak in such a way that we do not deny them even if they were not born.”
Argentina previously debated an abortion bill in 2018, but it was rejected by Congress.
Last month, President Alberto Fernandez presented a new bill to legalize this practice, hoping for it to have an “express” approval. The Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of the bill Dec. 11, and the Senate is expected to vote on it during the Christmas octave, most likely on Dec. 29. However, observers have pointed out that if the president can’t secure the majority needed – which he thus far doesn’t have – the vote might wait until 2021.
Though abortion is illegal in Argentina, a woman who was sexually abused or whose life is endangered by the pregnancy can request one in most public hospitals due to a protocol instituted by the Fernandez government.
According to the bishops, for those who hope 2021 will be better than 2020, the presidential legislative agenda “does not bring hope.”
“There are thousands of health and social issues to be solved, which require our full attention: from the problems of vaccination to the number of very sick people who this year have not received adequate medical care, to women who suffer violence or do not have a decent work. But what is being offered to them at this harsh and uncertain moment is abortion, and that is a blow to hope.”
According to the latest polls, over 60 percent of the population oppose the abortion bill.
The bishops are calling on the government and the people to focus on “fighting against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the lack of jobs, land and housing, and the negation of social and labor rights.”
The bishops’ statement, released three days before Christmas, is titled “Why not renew hope,” and heavily quotes Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.
In a rare move for the pontiff, he has gotten involved in the debate to legalize abortion in his homeland at least three times, sending letters condemning the practice.
Since he presented the bill, at least once a week the president has said something along the lines of “I hope Francis won’t get mad at me because I’m a Catholic who thinks abortion is not a sin,” or “I’m Catholic, but solving a health emergency.”
Sources within the bishops’ conference have told Crux that the government didn’t not expect such a vocal opposition from the bishops, who’ve been much more proactive than in 2018. However, the source said, seeing the timing and also Fernandez’s repeated pokes at the pontiff, the bishops felt more compelled to act instead of simply urging the laity to do so.
In their message, the bishops noted that Christmas “makes us think of the dignity of each life, reminding us how much a human being is worth,” be that of an unborn child, the elderly, or a disabled or sick person.
“This time becomes a strong call to solidarity, of mutual care, of being able to carry on our shoulders the sufferings of others,” the bishops wrote.