Months after fending off the strongest effort to repeal Argentina’s legal protections for the unborn, the pro-life movement in Pope Francis’s homeland is gearing up for its next political battle.
Last year, Argentina’s Senate failed to pass a law that would have legalized abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy, which had been passed by the country’s lower house.
Therefore, abortion is still illegal in Argentina, although there are several protocols that allow for it when the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse, the physical health of the pregnant woman is at risk, or if the fetus is considered non-viable outside of the womb.
But abortion is expected to be a major campaign issue ahead of October general elections, when Argentina votes for president, congress, and several state governors.
This Saturday, there will be several pro-life rallies to mark the National Day of the Unborn Child. Last year, an estimated 2 million people participated in more than 200 marches on the occasion.
This year, Argentina’s March for Life is concentrating the rallies to one city per state, with the theme “Save Them Both.”
Alejandro Geyer, one of the coordinators of the march in Buenos Aires, told Crux that this theme is “very important” because it helps “raise awareness over the fact that oftentimes, two people are vulnerable: The unborn baby and also the mother who’s in a difficult situation. And abortion affects both lives.”
Beyond the rallies, there are around 200 NGOs working in Argentina to take the message of “save them both” even further, to “protect them both,” noting that when a woman takes the decision to keep her baby, “the challenges continue for her after the birth.”
The “protect them both” campaign has several fronts, including a comprehensive reform to the adoption laws and projects to help mothers during the first year after the birth.
There are also plans for a toll-free phone number to support women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy, but the idea hit a snag. The organizers were told they would have to provide information on obtaining legal abortions, too, in the few cases when it is allowed in the country.
Speaking about Saturday’s rally, Geyer also said the event is citizen-led, not organized by any religion, “it doesn’t depend upon any church.”
“The claim that it’s organized by the bishops is a lie from the media, who are trying to label the rally as something organized by the Catholic Church,” he said. “On the contrary, we sent many invitations to them and most haven’t even answered.”
Four religious leaders - a Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew and a Protestant - will be on the stage in Buenos Aires, but they played no part in the organization of the event.
So far, the only statement from the bishops’ conference came from the pro-life commission on Tuesday in which they noted that March 25, when Catholics mark the Annunciation, is also the day for the unborn child.
“In many parts of our nation the March for Life will take place, as well as the praying of the rosary and other celebrations to welcome and care for life as a sacred gift,” the statement says.
“We accompany and support all these initiatives and we join in each one of them, without conflict, respecting the right of freedom of expression that must prevail in this challenging time of dialogue and encounter among Argentines,” it says.
“The rally is also not aligned to any political party,” Geyer said, pointing out that political banners are actually banned, and there will be no politicians on stage.
“The question of abortion is an ethical issue, serious and boundary-crossing, present in every political party, as those who oppose abortion are in every political party too,” he said.
Last year, after President Mauricio Macri decided to allow Congress to debate the abortion bill, the country became heavily polarized.
People would display light blue or green handkerchiefs from their windows, on their wrists, backpacks or cars, signifying that they were either pro-life (blue) or pro-abortion rights (green).
Before green-lighting the debate in Congress, Macri had said on several occasions that he was against abortion and that the life of the unborn child would be protected.
Geyer suggested there is a connection between the president’s change of heart on the issue and a loan the country received last year from the International Monetary Fund.
This is a theory that has been proposed by many anti-abortion groups in the country, and the rally’s organizer said it’s a clear example of the “ideological colonization” Francis often speaks about, with financial aid having a “price tag.”
“We’re seeing what John Paul II warned about in Evangelium Vitae, when he said that there are attacks against life that according to generalized opinion are no longer considered to be crimes, and paradoxically assume the nature of rights, to the point that the state is called upon to give them legal recognition,” Geyer said.
The Argentine debate was followed closely by many around the world, and the “light blue wave” and the “green wave” have crossed the border.
Thousands of people at the Jan. 19 March for Life in Washington, D.C., wore blue handkerchiefs in solidarity with the Argentine pro-life movement.
The pro-life fight isn’t over in the South American country, as both sides prepare for the Oct. 27 general election.
“There are no stars in this movement,” Malena Critto, a sociologist and member of Munerea Federales Independientes, a coalition of pro-life professional women, told Crux. “We make each other stronger, working together.”
For her, the pro-life rally this year is particularly important due to the elections: “We want to show that there are millions of Argentines who want to say ‘yes’ to inclusion and ‘no’ to a throwaway culture.”
“We’re fighting for women, for their access to health care, education, but never making the weakest one ever more vulnerable. We want to stop violence against women, we’re fighting abuse. Many of the women who get an abortion are taken by an abuser. How does abortion fight violence?” Critto said.
According to Critto, 86 percent of the women willingly go through with a pregnancy when they see they have support.
“If we don’t accompany them as a society, we’re not resolving anything,” she said.