Following the loosening of abortion restrictions in Chile and growing protests in Argentina, the government of Argentina has said it will consider holding a referendum on the legalization of abortion. Meanwhile in Argentina’s lower house, 70 lawmakers across the political spectrum presented a bill to legalize abortion up to 14 weeks of a pregnancy. President Mauricio Macri said he was in favor of debate and would encourage his allies in Congress to vote as they saw fit even though he was personally opposed. Abortion in Argentina has historically been heavily restricted and closely tied to the views of the Catholic hierarchy, with former President Carlos Menem publicly aligning the country with positions put forward by the Vatican. In 1994, Argentina amended its constitution to recognize the Pact of San José—an international treaty declaring in part a right to life to embryos and fetuses in all stages of development. Following an interview with Pope John Paul II, Menem codified March 25 as the “Day of the Unborn Child.” The current law restricts all abortions other than those for pregnancies resulting from rape or that endanger a woman’s life. Even these exceptions require that a woman seek permission from a judge, which often leads to lengthy delays. Lawmaker Aracelia Ferreyra said of the new bill, “This is a topic of equality and inequality, because those who do not have money pay with their health or their bodies.” It is estimated that nearly one-third of maternal deaths in Argentina are the result of clandestine abortions.
in Catholic Circles
In response to the annual March for Life, held in Paris on January 21, the Rural Movement of Catholic Youth issued a statement calling the march’s antichoice message “intolerance and hate” disguised as Christian values. The group’s statement went on to declare that it recognized abortion to be a “fundamental right for women and couples.” A spokesperson for the church immediately described the statement as a result of “dysfunctioning” within the group and Bishop Bernard Ginoux declared the group was no longer Catholic and would no longer receive subsidies from his diocese. Facing severe financial and institutional pressure, the Rural Movement of Catholic Youth officially withdrew its statement and hoped that French Catholics would maintain an open dialogue on the topic of abortion.
Lawmakers from the conservative, ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland, who have previously tried to ban all abortions, made a renewed push to ban abortions in cases of fetal abnormality. The “Stop Abortion” bill, drafted by the ultraconservative Ordo Iuris organization, sought to tighten Poland’s abortion law, which is already among Europe’s strictest—allowing abortion only in cases where there is severe and irreversible damage to the fetus, a serious threat to the woman’s health, or when pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Since 95 percent of legal abortions in Poland take place due to fetal abnormalities, the law would effectively lead to a total ban. Thousands of people took the streets across Poland against the ban, replicating massive marches against the attempted ban in 2016. The Catholic church of Poland, which is closely aligned with President Andrzej Duda and Members of the Law and Justice Party, applied direct political pressure in support of the ban. The Polish Episcopate appealed to parliamentarians to consider the ban and then it thanked them for doing so. Anti-ban protestors held signs accusing the church of political interference. According to a June 2017 poll, only 30 percent of Poles perceive the church as neutral, and support among Poles for the church dropped from 61 to 54 percent over the past six months. President Duda vowed to sign the law if approved by Parliament.
On March 9, the Irish government introduced its long-awaited bill to hold a referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution. The bill calls for the public to be asked whether they wish to repeal the amendment and replace it with a “provision [that] may be made in law for regulation of termination of a pregnancy.” The wording of the bill was unanimously approved by the cabinet, and the government set May 25th as the date for the referendum vote. The bill was published alongside the government’s official policy report, which outlines the many changes to abortion provision in the country that the government hopes to legislate if there is a referendum in favor of repeal. The policy report includes calls for general access to abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, specific access in cases of fatal fetal abnormality and danger to physical or mental livelihood and the decriminalization of abortions for women seeking abortions. Current polling suggests that a majority of Irish voters favor a repeal (56 percent) and that those in favor outnumber those opposed by nearly twofold (56 compared to 29 percent).
Croatian Health Minister Milan Kujundžić (founder of the former right wing populist party Croatian Dawn— Party of the People) retracted his comments suggesting that the Catholic church would have representatives in the working group that will draft the country’s new abortion law. In February 2017, the Constitutional Court of Croatia reaffirmed the constitutionality of abortion, rejecting claims made by conservative groups and individuals that allowing women access to abortion on request was unconstitutional. Nevertheless the court’s decision called on Croatia’s Parliament to pass a new abortion law within two years of its ruling. With only one year left, Minister Kujundžić must assemble a working group of experts to gather legislative solutions and best practices from other EU member states to guide the drafting of the new law. Speaking at a press conference in late March, Minister Kujundžić claimed “in a democratic society whenever a law is being prepared the public debate can include all stakeholders and individuals including the Catholic church.” After facing a public backlash, he later clarified that he did not mean to suggest that church leaders would be part of the working group members.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair-elect of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, criticized Senator Kaine’s “pro-choice rhetoric” in an interview with Catholic World Report in December 2017. The interview echoed Archbishop Naumann’s previous statement, delivered during the 2016 presidential election, in which he referred to Senator Kaine as an orthodox Democrat but a “cafeteria Catholic” for his support of legal abortion and other reproductive rights. Senator Kaine responded in the National Catholic Reporter this January, saying, “Enshrining Catholic teaching on contraception and abortion as law for all women, regardless of their faith or ethical background, goes too far.” He emphasized the distinction between religious teachings and civil law and argued that members of the hierarchy should “not assume to themselves the role of defining what the civil law should be for everyone.”