Call for referendum on abortion

Prime Minister Durão Barroso has continued to state that there will be no new consultations on a revision to Portugal’s abortion laws during his government’s term, which expires in 2006, despite the fact that family planning agencies estimate that around 20,000 illegal abortions are carried out in Portugal every year. Last year alone, five women died and 11,000 needed medical treatment after clandestine abortions. Now these shocking statistics have led Portuguese pro-abortion campaigners to present parliament with a new petition containing over 100,000 signatures requesting an immediate change in Portugal’s restrictive abortion laws.

The number of signatures contained in the document is 25,000 more than is required by parliament in order for a referendum question to be put to the government. At the moment, abortion is illegal in Portugal, with exceptions made only in cases of rape, or if the woman in question has severe health problems. The pro-abortion campaigners are demanding a new referendum calling for a vote on whether to decriminalise abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. This is not a new battle for the pro-abortion campaigners. A similar referendum, held in 1998, was narrowly rejected by 51 per cent to 49 per cent of the population. However, a recent study revealed that nearly three quarters of the population want the new referendum to be held and more than two thirds would vote to liberalise women’s access to abortion.