Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church (and attempted rock musician!), released an Apostolic letter on Monday, announcing that the "grave sin" of abortion can now be "forgiven" by Catholic priests indefinitely. According to the National Catholic Register, the letter states that priests are able to indefinitely "forgive" abortions, a "sin" that was previously forgivable by the Catholic Church during the "Year of Mercy," which ended on Sunday.
Officially, the letter states that Catholic priests will continue to have the power "to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion" and are "repentant" about the abortion.
"I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin," Francis said, "since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God's mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father."
Abortion is still illegal in Pope Francis' home country of Argentina, where it is only permitted in cases of rape or when the life of the mother is at risk due to pregnancy. Elsewhere, abortion is completely illegal under all circumstances in the Holy See, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Malta, and Nicaragua. According the the World Health Organization, 47,000 women die each year due to unsafe abortion procedures, primarily in the developing world and regions where access to legal abortion is limited.
In the United States, reproductive rights activists are concerned that abortion rights are at risk under president-elect Donald Trump's administration. Trump and the cabinet members he has appointed thus far all have anti-abortion positions. Dr. Warren Hern, one of the only providers of late term abortions in the U.S., wrote recently that he fears he will be assassinated because he is being targeted by a Republican investigation into his practice.