Three million pro-lifers marched in cities across Argentina last month, in the hope of swaying the “undecided 30” deputies in a tightly contested abortion vote that will take place in the Argentine lower chamber in early June. Holding up crosses draped in the pale blue and white Argentine flag, leading their children by the hand and chanting “Save both lives” (the mother’s and the child’s), 350,000 people marched in Buenos Aires on May 20. They included families from as far away as Madariaga, a town 200 miles south of the capital, and Brazil.
One reason that such a wide swathe of the population joined the march was that Argentine bishops have reached out to parishes with a message that includes secular reasoning and science as a complement to traditional doctrine.
José Ignacio López, an editor at La Nación newspaper, says: “More fundamentalist groups seem to have been replaced by different social movements and religious denominations. A recent survey by Isonomia shows that 60 per cent of respondents prefer a complete government public health strategy surrounding abortion, rather than just decriminalisation.”
Mirroring the concerns of many activists, Cardinal Mario Poli, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, gave a sermon at the Te Deum marking Argentina’s independence on May 25 in which he called for respect for human life “from beginning to end”.
The “different social movements” mentioned by López include the populist movement in Argentina, which represents those badly affected by unplanned teenage pregnancy and favours the return of Argentina’s populist former president Cristina Kirchner. The current president, Mauricio Macri, is taking a major risk by identifying himself with a decision that will affect millions of the urban and rural poor. As Federico Veliz, a 22-year old villa miseria dweller originally from the poor province of Santiago del Estero, told journalists at the march: “We poor embrace life. It is our only treasure.”
An interesting example of a local anti-abortion, anti-Macri politician is Juan Grabois, who is Pope Francis’s friend and was a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He has sounded off frequently against Macri, and is one of the most powerful pro-poor activists in Argentina.
In 2015, Pope Francis granted permission for priests around the world to absolve the sins of women who confess to having had an abortion. So far he has avoided any direct intervention in the Argentine debate, though he regularly condemns abortion in general terms.
Pope Francis’s refusal to visit Argentina began during Cristina Kirchner’s reign, but it must be noted that she refused to open the debate on abortion both before and after he was elected as Bishop of Rome. Macri’s timing in opening the debate has aroused suspicions in some quarters: the surprise announcement in February came weeks after the Pope’s most recent visit to Latin America and shortly before the fifth anniversary of his election.
Virginia Bonard, a Argentine journalist, says: “The newspapers and radio have been dyed green, the colour of the pro-abortion handkerchiefs, with their bias subtracting from their credibility. Nevertheless, the march on May 20 was unprecedented, in both its size and its peacefulness. The pro-life landscape is widely fractured but unites behind the Marcha por la Vida [March for Life] banner for marches. Another prospect pro-lifers face now is civil disobedience.
Two groups, the Catholic Doctors’ Consortium and the Corporation of Catholic Lawyers, have said that, were the law to change, they would risk prison for refusing to facilitate abortions.”
Miguel Cullen is the Catholic Herald’s Latin America editor
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