Argentina’s Catholics take a stand
Thousands of Argentinians – most of them women – have started formal proceedings to abandon the Catholic church, in protest of the church’s campaign against efforts to legalise abortion in the country.
In the month since the country's senate voted to maintain a ban on almost all abortions, more than 3,700 people have submitted apostasy applications to the Argentinian synod, according to César Rosenstein, a lawyer and founding member of the Argentinian Coalition for a Lay State.
The figure is a tiny percentage of Argentina’s population of 44 million, but apostasy activists say that the movement’s growing profile indicates a cultural shift in what has always been an overwhelmingly Catholic nation.
“Apostasy is an important symbolic and political act,” said Rosenstein, who said that visits to the group’s website had shot up since the vote from 100 daily unique users to around 40,000 a day.
The church strongly opposed the attempted reform. According to the Clarín newspaper, Pope Francis personally called on anti-abortion legislators to lobby their colleagues to reject the legislation; many senators invoked their Catholic faith during the 15-hour debate.
“I was born in 1974 and was baptised in a military chapel,” said journalist Soledad Vallejos, a member of the #NiUnaMenos feminist collective that campaigned strongly in favour of legal abortion. “[But] I’m not a believer and I don’t like the feeling that the church can claim to represent me because of a baptism in which I had no choice.”
In Argentina, 92% of the population describe themselves as Catholic – even though barely 20% practice their religion on a regular basis.
A constitutional reform in 1994 removed the requirement for Argentina’s presidents to be Catholic, but close ties remain between church and state. A growing number of apostasy supporters express frustration with the church over its opposition to divorce and same-sex marriage (which became legal in 1987 and 2010, respectively), as well as legal abortion.
Last month’s vote leaves in place a law drawn up nearly a century ago that penalises women with up to four years in prison for undergoing an abortion – even though clandestine abortions are rife and a leading cause of maternal death in the country.