Abortion referendum for Portugal

June 17, 1998

Abortion referendum for Portugal

By Margaret Allan

PORTO — Portugal is to hold a referendum on June 28 to decide whether the country's abortion legislation will be changed to give women abortion on demand, although only up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

A strong "yes" campaign has united Portugal's left and many others, and makes it likely that the change will be made.

The non-compulsory referendum requires a voter turnout of at least 50% to be valid. A simple majority is needed to pass the legislation.

The legislation, presented by the Young Socialists, the youth section of the ruling social democratic Socialist Party, has already been passed by parliament. However, the conservative party, which demanded the referendum, is confident that the strength of the anti-choice lobby will result in a "no" vote.

Early public opinion polls indicate that the change is extremely popular, despite the high proportion of Catholics in Portugal. It is estimated that half of the members of the conservative parties (including the Christian Democrats) are pro-choice.

The "yes to being tolerant" campaign held a media conference on June 1 in Porto to announce the launching of its web page. An alliance of women's organisations, family planning clinics, the left and many individuals, the "yes" campaign organisers are confident and hope for a strong majority in the referendum.

While recognising the limitations of allowing women the right to choose abortion for only the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, the vast majority of pro-choice campaigners see the new law as a big step forward.

Current Portuguese legislation allows abortion only in extreme cases, such as when the pregnancy is the result of rape (which has to be proven) or when the foetus has certain genetic abnormalities.

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