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MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The Argentine bishops' conference expressed its opposition to the president's plans to present legislation legalizing abortion, saying the South American country had more pressing social concerns.
In a strongly worded homily at a special Mass celebrated March 8 -- International Women's Day -- at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan, Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro, conference president, also took issue with President Alberto Fernandez referring to opponents of decriminalization as "hypocrites."
"Millions of Argentines, believers and nonbelievers, have the deep conviction that there is life from conception and that a person distinct from its mother is developing in her womb. It is unjust and painful to refer to them as being 'anti-rights' or 'hypocrites,'" Bishop Ojea said in a Mass attended by thousands and promoted with the slogan: "Yes to women, yes to life."
"Disqualifications and stigmatizations (of pro-life people) do nothing more than deepen the divisions between Argentines," Bishop Ojea said.
Politicians must "discern priorities and not select topics that don't match up with ordinary citizens," he added.
Fernandez took office Dec. 10, 2019, amid an economic crisis in Argentina, where inflation has soared, the currency has crashed and poverty and hunger are rife.
The bishops' rebuke of the president's comments came as Fernandez seeks Catholic support for stabilizing Argentina, where many parishes -- especially in poor neighborhoods -- operate soup kitchens and clothing banks and provide services such as medical checkups and legal clinics.
On March 1, Fernandez promised to present a bill to legalize abortion to Congress within 10 days and accused opponents of "hypocrisy" on the issue.
Despite the strong words, some observers see the church as still being willing to work with Fernandez, especially as many of the prelates working with the poor opposed the austerity policies of Fernandez's predecessor, Mauricio Macri.
"There hasn't been a rupture or shift in support," said Mariano De Vedia, a political editor and religion writer at the newspaper La Nacion. "There has been an emphatic church rejection of (Fernandez's) abortion proposal."
Polls show people split on the president's proposal. Observers say Argentine's social attitudes have shifted in recent years on gender issues and the traditional roles of women.
A survey by Opinaia found 35 percent support for legalizing abortion, while 44 percent opposed, with opposition strongest outside the capital, Buenos Aires.
Argentina's lower house of Congress approved a decriminalization bill in 2018, but the Senate -- with strong representation from the conservative provinces -- voted it down.
De Vedia said opponents are hoping for a similar scenario in 2020 as "the votes (for legalization) are not assured in the Senate."