Last week the pro-life movement savoured one of its most heartening moments in recent years. After a 15-hour debate, the Argentine senate rejected a bill that would have legalised abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, by a vote of 38-31.
The campaign to relax the country’s abortion laws had generated intense international interest. Abortion advocates believed that if they won in Argentina then they could pressurise other Latin American countries to follow suit. As it did before the Irish referendum in May, Amnesty International deployed considerable resources in support of abortion, even taking out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times warning senators that “the world is watching”. But this time its efforts came to nothing.
Why did pro-lifers win in Argentina when they had lost by such a significant margin in Ireland just months earlier? There are several reasons. The most obvious is that Argentina is far less homogenous than Ireland. It is therefore less likely to produce a broad consensus in favour of radical social change (though it did legalise same-sex marriage in 2010, five years before Ireland). Another is that the media are more diverse in Argentina than in Ireland. Argentine pro-lifers were able to argue their case on a more or less equal footing, while their Irish counter-parts struggled for airtime and were muzzled online.
The Church was also far more effective in Argentina, cultivating grassroots resistance to the bill through parishes. It was able to do so because, unlike in Ireland, its credibility has not been destroyed by the abuse crisis. The Irish bishops sensed that they were held in such low regard that if they spoke out they would actually convince more people to vote for abortion.
Pope Francis was noticeably silent during the Irish referendum (perhaps for the same reason as the Irish bishops). But he worked hard behind the scenes in Argentina. According to the newspaper Clarín, he personally appealed to pro-life legislators to lobby senators to reject the bill. His successor in Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli, was also influential, celebrating a well-publicised “Mass for Life” on the eve of the vote. This explains why, on the morning after, a headline in Clarín read: “The Church, the key player that managed to stop the law.”
Writing for the Catholic News Service, Charlie Camosy suggested a further reason for the pro-life triumph. In Argentina, he noted, prominent female politicians had opposed the bill, including vice president Gabriela Michetti. There were no equivalent figures in Ireland.
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