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Catholic World News News Feature

Church, state face showdown on abortion in Mexico City April 30, 2007

The Archdiocese of Mexico City has warned health-care workers that they could be excommunicated for performing abortions.

In the face of new legislation making the procedure legally available in the capital district, the archdiocese issued a statement urging all Catholics, and others of good will, "not to be responsible for this abominable act." The statement went on to remind health-care workers that "they can invoke their human right to conscientious objection."

The Church statement appeared likely to cause a showdown with local government officials, who insisted that doctors would be obliged to perform abortions. Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a strong supporter of the new abortion law, said that Catholic doctors could not be exempt. "Doctors must adhere to the law notwithstanding their religious convictions," the mayor said. "We have to serve the public," he insisted, adding that doctors must do "what the law orders them to do."

The legalization of abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy-- which will take effect as soon as the mayor signs the legislation-- was approved by the local parliament in the Mexico City district despite strong opposition from Catholic leaders. Church spokesmen warned that politicians who voted in favor of the new law could themselves face excommunication. Mayor Ebrard dismissed that threat, saying: "We are in the 21st century, not the 16th."

Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City has already challenged the new law, vowing that Church leaders will continue to fight against legalized abortion in spite of a provision in Mexico's constitution that bars political action by religious bodies. The cardinal is in Rome this week, evidently for consultations with Vatican officials about the looming showdown.

On Sunday, April 29, Cardinal Rivera led several thousand pro-life demonstrators in a march across Mexico City, ending at the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where they prayed for restoration of a "culture of life" in their country. Noting that the day was observed as "Children's Day" in Mexico, the cardinal said that there is no reason for celebration when the lives of unborn children are now in legal jeopardy.

The archdiocese made health-care workers the focus of a public appeal issued on Sunday, saying that "doctors who enable the extermination of life are betraying their own profession."

While pro-life activists marched in Mexico City, advocates of legal abortion staged counter-demonstrations outside Catholic churches, threatening to shut down the churches if Catholics continued their political campaign.

The government of the Mexico City district has clashed repeatedly with Catholic leaders, with initiatives to recognize same-sex couples and allow abortion on demand. The government is now weighing a move to legalize physician-assisted suicide.