by Steven Ertelt
October 25, 2006
Lisbon, Portugal (LifeNews.com) — Contrary to news reports in the Portuguese media, the Catholic Church in this western European nation is urging voters there to oppose an abortion referendum that the nation may consider as early as January. The parliament recently approved the referendum and sent it to voters.
News reports initially indicated that Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo had urged voters to abstain from voting in the referendum, but he says he’s urging the Portuguese people to vote no.
"My replies to questions on the theory of a new referendum on abortion were incorrectly used by some of the media, and also by political forces and seem to have created confusion and even indignation in some people," he said, according to a Zenit report.
Cardinal Policarpo said voters there should get active in the campaign to oppose the referendum because Catholics should "defend life."
"It is clear that respect for life is an exigency of Christian morality" to oppose abortion," he added, according to Zenit. "As it is a precept of Christian morality, it is a grave sin to violate it."
The measure would legalize abortions in Portugal for any reason during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Current law makes abortions illegal but allows them through the 12th week of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, life of the mother, or when the unborn child has severe physical or mental handicaps.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese Episcopal Conference has urged voters to oppose the referendum and to be active in speaking out against it.
Two polls released last week showed different results.
A poll published in the daily newspaper Publico claimed 53 percent of eligible voters favor making abortion legal while 21 percent want to continue to prohibit it.
Another 10 percent said they had no opinion and 16 percent said they wouldn’t vote.
The Publico poll found, however, that Portuguese residents don’t agree with the language of the abortion referendum, which would legalize all abortions within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Over 70 percent of voters there favor legal abortion in cases of rape and incest, but only 34 percent said they back legalized abortion for any reason.
That poll differs from a survey published Thursday in the daily newspaper Correio da Manha which found just 47.9 percent of voters want to legalize abortion while 39.9 percent are opposed.
In 1998, Portuguese voters turned down a referendum seeking to legalize abortion by a 51-49 percentage vote and only 30 percent of those eligible to vote participated.
In March 2004, members of Portugal’s parliament voted down three separate proposals to legalize abortion after more than 200,000 petitions were submitted against them.
"The solution for a woman in difficulty should never be the death of her unborn child," one of the leaders of a pro-life coalition, Teresa Aires de Campos, said after the vote.
"We want to create a society where a newborn child is never seen as a burden that needs to be eliminated. We want to create a country where a child is always welcomed."
The debate between now and January, which has not yet been set as the official date for the vote, will likely focus on the number of illegal abortions that occur in the European nation. Supporters of making abortion legal use the argument that illegal abortions are hurting women, even though legalizing the procedure doesn’t make it any safer.
Pro-abortion groups claim that about 10,000 illegal abortions occur every year in Portugal. Approximately 1,000 legal abortions are currently done each year in Portugal and many women travel to neighboring Spain to have abortions done outside the country’s current limits.
Before the measure can go before voters, the nation’s Constitutional Court and the president must approve the proposal, but that is considered a formality.
Prime Minister Jose Socrates has vowed he and his Socialist Party will actively campaign in favor of the referendum.
Last year a Portugal court blocked a vote the government had planned for November. The court ruled the vote could not take place before September 2006 because the country’s parliament previously rejected a measure earlier in the year to hold a vote.
Among European nations, Poland and Ireland also have similar abortion prohibitions and Malta bans abortion altogether.