As the Argentinian government prepares a bill to decriminalize abortion and make it “safe, legal and available to all women,” the bishops’ conference launched a campaign titled “Yes to women, yes to life,” the focal point of which will be a Mass on March 8, International Women’s Day.

The Mass will be celebrated in the national shrine of Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina. The central intention of the liturgy will be to “ask for the protection of human life until natural death.”

The convocation is led by the Executive Commission of the Argentinian bishops’ conference, and after mostly staying in the background during the discussions of a similar bill in 2018, the bishops are now taking a more clear, direct stance in opposing the measure, instead of asking the laity to lead the Church’s campaign.

“Within the framework of the celebration of International Women’s Day and seeing the announced legislative treatment of the legalization of abortion,” the leadership of the bishops’ conference invited every prelate in Argentina, along with the whole Church, to come together and pray for the protection of human life.

“We invite all the People of God, and all men and women willing to join in this common prayer for life, to the Virgin of Lujan, Patroness of the Argentine People,” said Wednesday’s statement.

The statement is signed by the president of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Oscar Ojea; Cardinal Mario Poli, who succeeded Jorge Mario Bergoglio - today Pope Francis - as archbishop of Buenos Aires; Archbishop Marcelo Colombo; and the secretary general of the conference, Bishop Carlos Malfa.

In December, the government of Alberto Fernandez announced a liberalization of access to abortion, in the limited cases where it is legal in Argentina, under a protocol announced by Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia.

Argentine law allows abortion in cases of rape or threat to the life or “social health” of the mother, but pro-abortion advocates had complained access was limited due to conscientious objection rights granted to medical personnel.

Among other things, the “abortion protocol” makes it possible for a girl as young as 13 to have an abortion without her parents’ consent. It also eliminates conscientious objection for medical institutions, which must provide the procedure when legally allowed, and could force doctors and nurses to terminate a pregnancy.

In addition, if the baby was the result of a rape, there is no obligation to take the case to civil authorities, a measure pro-life groups denounced as providing protection for the rapist, since he won’t face criminal charges.

The protocol also allows for what Pope Francis has denounced as “eugenic abortion,” the termination of a pregnancy because the unborn baby is diagnosed with a disability.

“The protocol will be used as a guide, especially in cases where the law clearly allows for the interruption of pregnancies,” Gonzalez Garcia told a news conference at the time, two days after being sworn in.

“We are respectful of conscientious objection, but conscientious objection cannot be used as an institutional alibi for not complying with the law,” Gonzalez Garcia added.

The protocol signed by Gonzalez Garcia was very similar to one revoked by then-President Mauricio Macri in October.

Only Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana have legalized abortion in Latin America, with several countries in the region having strong pro-life constitutions, including Argentina, where the Carta Magna calls for life to be protected from the moment of conception.

Last week, when Fernandez was in Rome, there was some controversy over the abortion debate.

The Argentine president told a group of journalists that he hadn’t discussed abortion during his visit with the pope and the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Yet in a statement released afterwards, the Vatican said that during the conversations, the matter of the protection of life from the moment of conception was on the agenda.

Fernandez eventually acknowledged that the discussion had taken place with Parolin.

This week, he announced that he was going to present a bill that would legalize “a woman’s right to abortion when she wants one,” while at the same time, help women who want to continue with their pregnancies.

“I am going to pass a law that will end the criminalization of abortion and allow the care of any abortion in any public center,” Fernandez said on Wednesday at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.

His goal is to “allow for the care of any abortion in public health centers.”

The center-left president claimed he “doesn’t live in peace with my conscience” knowing that women who want to terminate their pregnancies in Argentina do so with someone who ends up hurting them.

Fernandez and his government have declared abortion a national health crisis.