Sunday, February 11, 2007

Portugal votes to legalize abortion

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Although voter turnout was only about 40 percent in today's nation-wide referendum -- well under the 50 percent threshold required to be met for the outcome of the referendum to be binding -- over 59 percent of Portuguese voters expressed support for a change to the country's abortion law that would legalize abortion up to the 10th week of pregnancy.

Portugal currently has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union. Only Ireland, Malta and Poland have such similarly strict legislation.

The mainly Catholic country currently allows abortions up the 12th week to save a woman's life or to preserve her mental or physical health.

In cases of rape, abortions are allowed within 16 weeks. The limit is 24 weeks if there is a risk that the child will be born with an incurable disease or deformity.

As a result many Portuguese women go to Spain for terminations or resort to illegal abortions.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who may or may not know that the unexamined life is not worth living, intends to proceed with legalization despite the low turnout: "The law will now be discussed and approved in parliament. Our interest is to fight clandestine abortion and we have to produce a law that respects the result of the referendum."

There will be intense opposition in parliament, but the Portuguese people have spoken and there is now light at the end of Portugal's tunnel of medieval darkness.

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