Argentine president hopes Pope Francis 'won't be angry' over abortion bill

AlbertoFernandez PapaFrancisco CamaraElectoralNAcional VaticanMedia 241120 Alberto Fernández, left. Pope Francis, right. | Cámara Electoral Nacional and Vatican Media

Argentine president Alberto Fernández said Sunday he hopes Pope Francis won't be angry because of a bill he introduced in the country's legislature to legalize abortion. The president, a Catholic, said he had to introduce the bill to solve "a public health problem in Argentina."

Fernández made the statement Nov. 22 on the Argentine television program Corea del Centro.

In defense of his position, the president explained "I am a Catholic, but I have to solve a problem in Argentine society. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is the president of France who approved abortion in France, and the pope at that time demanded to know how being a Catholic he was promoting that, and the answer was  'I govern many French people who aren't Catholics and I have to solve a public health problem.'"

"That's what's going on with me more or less. Beyond that, no matter how Catholic one is, on the issue of abortion, it seems to me that this is a different discussion. I don't agree very much with the logic of the Church on that issue," Fernández said.

The president's reference to a public health crisis seemed to refer to unsubstantiated claims from abortion advocates in the country, who claim that women in Argentina die frequently from so-called "clandestine" or unsafe illegal abortions in the country. In a Nov. 12 interview Bishop Alberto Bochatey, who heads the Argentine bishops' conference healthcare ministry, challenged those assertions.

Pope Francis is an Argentine.

When asked if "the pope will be very angry about" the initiative, Fernández replied: "I hope not, because he knows how much I admire him, how much I value him and I hope he understands that I have to solve a public health problem in Argentina. Finally, the Vatican is a state within a country called Italy where abortion has been allowed for many years. So I hope he'll understand."

"This is not against anyone, this is to solve a problem" and if the abortion law passes,  "that doesn't make it mandatory, and those who have their religious convictions, all of them very respectable, are not obliged to abort," he said in justification of the law.

Fulfilling a presidential campaign promise, Fernández introduced the bill to legalize abortion Nov. 17.

The bill is expected to be debated by the legislature in December.

The legislative process will begin in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) committees on General Legislation, Health and Social Action, Women and Diversities, and Criminal Legislation and then go to a full session of the chamber. If passed there, it will be sent to the Senate for debate.

In June 2018, the Chamber of Deputies passed an abortion bill with 129 votes for, 125 against and 1 abstention. After intense debate, the Senate rejected the bill in August by a vote of 38 to 31 with two abstentions and one lawmaker absent.

During the interview, Fernández said his bill would have the necessary votes to pass.

According to the Argentine president, a "serious debate" is not about "abortion yes or no", but "under what conditions are abortions performed" in Argentina. Fernández accused pro-lifers of wanting "clandestine abortions to continue." For "those of us who say 'yes to abortion,' what we want is for abortions to be performed in appropriate sanitary conditions," he said.

After Fernández introduced his bill, several pro-life organizations announced activities in opposition to legalizing abortion. More than 100 lawmakers have created the Argentine Network of Legislators for Life to fight abortion measures at federal and local levels.

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news agency. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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