Argentina on Wednesday became the largest Latin American country to legalize abortion, defying public opposition from Pope Francis as well as from the nation’s Catholic leaders.
The Senate passed the bill, 38-29, two weeks after it passed the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, 131-117. Two years ago, an abortion legalization bill passed the lower house before being defeated in the Senate.
Previously, abortion was legal only in cases of rape or if the mother’s health was in danger. The new law legalizes abortion through the 14th week of pregnancy.
Thousands of pro-choice supporters celebrated outside the Congress building when it passed, cheering and even crying over the historic action. Supporters said the law was needed because of the high number of illegal abortions in the country.
“We have been fighting for years,” bill supporter Gabriela Giacomelli told CNN. “I see young people now, though I hope they never have to abort, but if they do now they can do it safely.”
The Argentinean Bishops’ Conference, though, lamented the vote, saying it will “further deepen the divisions in our country.” The country is 92 percent Catholic, according to the CIA, although the same data says only 20 percent of the citizens are practicing Catholics.
“We are certain that our people will always continue to choose all life and all lives,” the statement said.
The group Pro-Life Unity said the vote would be remembered “as one of the most macabre days in recent history.”
Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina and previously served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, spoke out against abortion in a November letter to eight pro-life Catholic women in his Argentine hometown. The letter was handwritten.
Abortion, he said, “is not a primarily religious issue but one of human ethics, prior to any religious confession.” The National Catholic Register reported on the letter.
“Is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? Is it fair to hire a hitman to solve a problem?” Pope Francis asked.
The bill passed despite a November survey showing that 60 percent of citizens opposed the bill and only 26.7 percent favored it.
In America, some pro-life supporters expressed sorrow over the celebration that followed the bill’s passage. U.S. pro-life activist Lila Rose posted a video showing thousands of Argentines celebrating the new law with the type of exuberance normally saved for a soccer match.
“Heartbreaking and evil,” Rose tweeted. “... Crowds of abortion activists cheer in the street. These are children, sons and daughters, whose deaths are being celebrated. Lord have mercy.”
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Erics Photography
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.