At the entrance to Argentina’s Congress is a plaque reminding legislators that Our Lady of Lujan is the patron saint of the country’s political parties – a not-so-subtle nod to religion in a nation considering whether to allow abortions.
As Argentina’s Senate prepares to vote on a bill that would legalise the practice, the Catholic Church has joined forces with evangelical Christians to fight the measure tooth and nail.
The bill, which aims to legalise voluntary abortions at up to 14 weeks, was passed by the Chamber of Deputies on December 11 and will be debated and voted on in the Senate on December 29.
Two years ago a similar bill passed the lower house but was defeated in the Senate following a determined campaign by both Catholics and evangelicals.
Argentina’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion and a 1994 reform removed the requirement that the president be Catholic.
However it retains a reference to God in its preamble and its second article guarantees government support for the Catholic Church.
Sociologist Fortunato Mallimaci, who wrote a book on what he says is the myth of Argentine secularism, said: “The Catholic Church in Argentina has great sway. There’s a very strong Catholic culture in the political world.
“Religious groups look for state support and the state, when it feels weak, looks for support from religious groups.”
Catholicism is a strong force in Argentina, the homeland of Pope Francis.
The state pays a salary to archbishops and subsidises Catholic schooling, which accounts for 36 per cent of education in Argentina, according to Mallimaci.
However, Catholicism has been losing influence as evangelical Christianity gains ground.
According to a 2019 poll by a government agency, 62.0 per cent of Argentines identify as Catholic, 18.9 per cent as non-religious and 15.3 per cent as evangelical.
The Catholic Church’s sway can be seen in Argentina’s delay compared to other countries in adopting a number of laws – divorce was legalised only in 1987, sex education introduced in 2006, gay marriage approved in 2010 and a gender identity law passed in 2012.
Abortion is currently only allowed in two cases – rape and a danger to the mother’s life.
“There is an opposition and huge rejection from the Catholic Church, which weighs heavily” on the chances of the law passing, constitutional lawyer Alfonso Santiago said.
However, he believes the relationship between the government of President Alberto Fernandez, who sponsored the abortion bill, and the Catholic Church will remain strong regardless of which way the vote goes.