Countdown to the abortion referendum

By: Natasha Smith

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AS THE country waits with anticipation for the result of the abortion referendum scheduled to take place on Sunday it is clear that the outcome could radically alter the ruling ideology in Portugal.

Demonstrations over the past few weeks have illustrated a divided nation over the legalisation of abortions, with many fierce pro-choice and pro-life campaigns being launched.

Prime Minister José Sócrates is openly in favour of legalising abortions. In his campaign of support for a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, he said: “We want to combat the national shame of illegal abortions. We cannot continue to shut our eyes to the thousands of illegal abortions that every year mutilate the women of this country.”

He said that abortions need to stop being dealt with by the legal system and start being treated by health and social support systems.

If the outcome of the February 11 referendum is in favour of the legalisation of abortions, Sócrates said the government would make a decision about whether abortions will be free on the national health service or if women will be obliged to pay for the procedure.

One thing that is certain is that abortions will only be performed up to 10 weeks of pregnancy – in the UK it is legal for termination to be carried out up to 24 weeks, but most hospitals and clinics will not consider termination beyond 18 to 20 weeks.

Sócrates said that he did not judge people who were against the legalisation of abortions saying: “If you believe in something, you should always fight for it.”


In other countries, abortion figures have tended to fall when the procedure has been made legal and Sócrates admitted that it was likely that the same trend could occur in Portugal.

He said having a law that vows to punish women for having abortions, while rarely being enforced, undermines people’s confidence in other laws and justice institutions.

Some believe that Portugal needs 50,000 births per year to sustain future generations and are therefore against the legalisation of abortions.

The most vocal pro-life supporter has been the Catholic Church. To keep the abortion law intact, members of congregations have been told that if they vote ‘yes’, they will be excommunicated.

This punishment will also be applied to women in the congregation who have had an abortion, as well as anyone who helped them. The view held by the Church is that human life should not be decided through a referendum and the act itself is murder.

Experts have predicted that whatever the result, the decision will be heavily criticised and it is likely that the issue will continue to dominate news headlines and will be the hot topic of discussion.

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