One of Paraguay's leading churchmen acknowledged Sunday that the nation has been split over the case of a pregnant 10-year-old girl denied an abortion.

The argument over the girl has drawn unusually strong attention to the issues of child abuse and abortion, which is banned in all cases except when the mother's life is in danger.

"The country is divided in two," said Msgr. Claudio Gimenez, president of the country's Episcopal Conference, during a homily. "Some want to legalize abortion, the killing of an innocent who still is in a period of gestation. And for the other side, those who oppose that idea."

Sen. Esperanza Martinez, a former health minister, complained that the debate about whether the girl is physically able to bear a child overlooks her own mental and physical wellbeing.

For officials, Martinez said during a Senate session, "This girl became a uterus. She became a birth canal."

About 600 girls 14 or under become pregnant each year in the country of 6.8 million people. Studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say thousands of children in the United States also give birth each year.

Amnesty International has asked authorities to allow an abortion to protect the girl, or at least to create a medical panel to assess her health. But the current health minister, Antonio Barros, told a news conference that the girl was in good health at a Red Cross hospital and that the pregnancy, at five months, was too advanced.

Police said Saturday they had arrested the girl's fugitive stepfather, who is accused of raping the child. Local media quoted him as denying guilt. The girl's mother had been detained earlier for allegedly failing to protect her.

Police Commissioner Luis Rojas said the 42-year-old man had been placed in isolation to prevent other inmates from attacking him.