Portugal PM Seeks to Legalize Abortion Despite Voided Voting

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates has outraged pro-life supporters by saying that he will legalize abortion in the country despite the weekend’s referendum having a turnout too low to be legally binding.

Sunday saw Portugal go to the polls to vote on whether to legalize abortion. For the vote to be legally binding more than 50 percent of the country’s registered voters must take part. The turnout of Sunday's referendum fell short at just 40 percent.

Nevertheless, Socrates declared that he will change the law as 59.3 percent of those that voted had backed a change in the law. The proposals will allow all women to have abortions until the tenth week of pregnancy. Currently abortion laws in the predominantly Roman Catholic country are some of the strictest in Europe, only allowing abortions in cases of rape, or where the health of the mother is seriously at risk.

“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,” Socrates said.

“The people spoke with a clear voice,” he added.

However, the leader of Partido Popular, which campaigned against the change, said the prime minister was acting hastily. Jose Ribeiro e Castro said, “Socrates will be responsible for this sad chapter in Portugal's history, for insisting on a political move that has split Portuguese society.”

“Low voter turnout has confirmed that (abortion) was not a critical issue,” he said.

Portugal currently permits abortions up to 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.

In a 1988 referendum, voters upheld the existing abortion law by 51 percent to 49 percent, but the result was declared void as nearly 70 percent of voters did not turn up to vote on the issue.

The newest proposals have worried pro-life campaigners as inside the drafting there has been no wording about women having to justify their decision to get the abortion. This has led those against the reform to declare it as “abortion on demand”.

Cardinal Jose da Cruz Policarpo, the Patriarch of Lisbon, has said, “Whatever the motives that justify this dramatic act in the eyes of a woman, it is always the denial of a place in the world for a human life that was conceived.”