The Argentine bishops' conference and pro-life groups have expressed dismay with the pending approval of a new protocol on accessing abortion.

In a brief statement July 27, the bishops backed an earlier declaration from Cardinal Mario Poli of Buenos Aires and his auxiliaries, which "expressed their particular worry for the extension without limits for the performance of an abortion and the absence of the institutional right to conscientious objection."

On July 16, the local Buenos Aires legislature overwhelmingly approved a national health ministry protocol known as Legal Interruption of Pregnancy, which outlines the rules for accessing legal abortions in certain circumstances -- such as pregnancy resulting from rape or reasons related to health -- permitted by an earlier court ruling.

The protocol -- which is not a law, but offers guidance -- was updated in December, shortly after President Alberto Fernandez took office, and must be approved on the provincial level to take effect in that province.

Fernandez promised in early March to introduce an abortion decriminalization bill, but he postponed that plan due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has since reiterated his plans to introduce an abortion decriminalization bill after the pandemic ends.

A national poll in February from Universidad de San Andres found Argentines split on the protocol, but in favor of allowing abortion in situations of rape.

Pro-life groups mobilized with the protocol's approval in Buenos Aires and have called on Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta veto it, although it passed the 60-seat legislature with 49 votes in favor.

The protocol allows women to seek an abortion in the case of sexual assault without filing a criminal complaint; instead, it requires only a sworn statement. It also says for girls over the age of 13, "her will must be considered," something protocol opponents say allows decisions to be made without the permission of a parent or guardian.

Pro-life groups additionally objected to limits on conscientious objectors. Mariano De Vedia, an Argentine lawyer and newspaper editor, told Catholic News Service the protocol allows conscientious objection, "but on the condition the patient's care is not delayed and ... the patient (is referred) to a professional who is willing to carry out the procedure."

Cardinal Poli questioned the timing of the introduction of the capital, saying July 16, "It pains and hurts us that in the middle of a lethal contagion, in which so many health workers and essential workers expose themselves and risk their lives to save others, legislators saw the opportunity to advance a law that is certainly not 'honoring life.'"