Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, a Colombian prelate who helped lead the Vatican's campaign against abortion and insisted condoms do not prevent transmission of the Aids-causing virus, has died in a Rome hospital, aged 72.
Lopez Trujillo died of a heart attack on Saturday night at the Pius XI private clinic, where he had been admitted for tests on March 17, said Monsignor Jorge Raigosa.
He suffered medical complications after being admitted to hospital several weeks ago for "grave health problems" and had been in intensive care.
In March 2007, Lopez Trujillo travelled to Mexico to launch the Roman Catholic Church's campaign against plans in the predominantly Catholic country to legalise abortion. Catholic teaching forbids abortion as a grave sin.
The cardinal inaugurated an international anti-abortion conference in Mexico City by celebrating Mass in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the most important Catholic shrine in the Americas.
The following month, the Mexico City assembly passed a measure legalising abortion in the capital during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Opponents appealed the law and Mexico's Supreme Court is reviewing it.
In 2006, the he said liberal attitudes to abortion in Western society could one day lead to the Catholic Church facing legal action for its opposition to the practice.
"I fear that faced with current legislation, speaking in defence of life, of the rights of the family, is becoming in some societies a crime against the state, a form of disobedience of the government, a discrimination against women," he told the Catholic Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana.
He also said scientists who experimented on embryonic stem cells should be viewed in the same light as abortionists and should be barred by the Church from taking communion.
"Destroying an embryo equals abortion and that excommunication goes for the woman, the doctors and the scientists who eliminate the embryo," he said.
Lopez Trujillo made headlines in 2003 for saying that condoms do not prevent HIV-Aids. He contended that condoms might even help spread HIV-Aids through a false sense of security.
The cardinal led the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family since 1990.
Priests for Life, an organisation that seeks to end abortion and euthanasia, hailed Lopez Trujillo as "one of the Church's strongest advocates for the dignity of the human person and the family."
"He knew and often said that the Church's pro-life stance was not just a teaching, but a battle," said Rev Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life.
Born in 1935 in Villahermosa, Colombia, Lopez Trujillo moved with his family when he was a young boy to the capital, Bogota. While a university student, he decided to attend a seminary, and later received a philosophy degree from Rome's prestigious Angelicum university.
He was ordained a priest in 1960 and made a bishop in 1971 by Pope Paul VI. He later headed the Latin American bishops' conference, CELAM. He was archbishop of Medellin in 1979 when Pope John Paul II attended a CELAM conference, and in 1983 was elevated to cardinal's rank by the pontiff.
With Lopez Trujillo's death, the number of cardinals eligible to elect a pontiff drops to 118, Vatican Radio said.
Monsignor Raigosa said Pope Benedict XVI was expected to celebrate a funeral Mass for the cardinal at the Vatican on Wednesday