by Steven Ertelt
November 15, 2006
Lisbon, Portugal (LifeNews.com) — Portugal’s highest court has given the okay to a referendum voters may consider in January that would legalize abortion for any reason within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The measure has one last step — approval by the president — before it heads to voters in what will be a closely contested vote.
Portugal’s Constitutional Court approved the referendum that the nation’s parliament approved last month.
If approved, it would remove Portugal from the list of European nations — including Ireland, Poland and Malta — that prohibit abortions.
Now, President Anibal Cavaco Silva has 20 days to decide whether or not to send the referendum on to the people for their consideration. If he moves it forward, the vote must be held within 40-180 days after his decision.
To go into effect, a majority of voters must approve the abortion referendum and more than 50 percent of the nation’s residents must turn out in order for the vote to count.
Voters would be asked the following question: "Do you agree with the decriminalization of voluntary termination of pregnancy if it takes place, at the woman’s request, within the first ten weeks of pregnancy in a legally authorized medical facility?"
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.
Earlier this week, Portugal Prime Minister Jose Socrates endorsed the abortion referendum but he said the government would not press ahead with legislation to legalize abortion unless voters approved the measure at the ballot box.
Socrates said that the government could move a bill through the Portuguese legislature to legalize abortion but he wants the public to sign off on legalization.
"We will only pass this law if the ‘yes’ gets more votes that the ‘no’," Socrates said. "We only need one vote, but we need it to do it."
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.
Polls have show conflicting results on what Portugal’s citizens will do.
A late October poll, conducted by the polling firm Marktest, found 63 percent of residents of the western European nation would back the abortion referendum.
That’s a stark difference from two polls released in early October.
A poll published in the daily newspaper Publico claimed 53 percent of eligible voters favor making abortion legal and a survey published by the daily newspaper Correio da Manha which found just 47.9 percent of voters want to legalize abortion.
The Catholic Church said it is urging voters there to oppose the referendum.
Contrary to news reports in the Portuguese media, the church doesn’t want Catholics to abstain from voting.
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."
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."
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.