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Pope warns against legislation legalizing abortion in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY—Days before Mexico City lawmakers are expected to legalize abortion in the capital, Pope Benedict XVI weighed in on the issue, saying the proposed legislation "threatens the lives of unborn children."

In a letter to the Mexican Bishop's Conference released Friday, the pope said Jesus Christ compels followers to "protect and defend with firm decision" the right to life.

Meanwhile, the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, said Friday that it would ask the Mexican Supreme Court to review the law if it's approved.

Mexican Sen. Santiago Creel said the party would seek to overturn the measure on the grounds that the country's constitution guarantees the right to life.

"It doesn't matter if it's 12 weeks or eight weeks," he said in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers.

Even without the pope's intervention, the battle was already bitter over the bill. While Mexico City is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, Mexico City's autonomous legislative assembly is dominated by the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and there's little doubt the bill will pass when the assembly votes on Tuesday. Nearly a fifth of Mexico's 107 million people live in the Mexico City region and 8 million live in Mexico City itself.

Mexico's Catholic leaders have taken an aggressive vocal stance against the measure, blasting the PRD and calling for protests outside lawmakers' chambers.

This week, church leaders also called for a nationwide referendum on the issue. Recently, the church was unable to thwart approval of gay civil unions in Mexico City and the northern state of Coahuila.

The pope's letter, dated Wednesday and addressed to conference Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes and sent through the pope's personal secretary, was posted on the conference's Web site Friday.

It was the pope's first public statement on the issue.

"The bishops are very happy. It shows that the pope is following the situation and that he is in solidarity with us on the situation here in Mexico," said Dario Ortiz, the conference's director of communication.

Abortion is legal in Mexico City in cases of rape, incest or if a woman's life is at risk. The proposed bill would legalize abortion procedures for any reason during a woman's first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion-rights supporters argue that legalizing abortion would save lives and spare women dangerous and illegal procedures that already take place.

The pope's letter strengthens the Mexican church's adamant opposition to the bill, but it likely won't have any effect on the outcome of Tuesday's vote, said Carlos Lugo Galera, a social science professor at Iberoamerican University in Mexico City.

"There are no indications that we'll have any large-scale protests," Galera said.

A proposed bill that would legalize abortion nationally is before Mexico's Congress, where PAN holds a slim majority. The likely fate of that bill is unclear.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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