by Steven Ertelt
February 7, 2007
Lisbon, Portugal (LifeNews.com) — Portugal has been intensely debating abortion for the last several months as it prepares for a vote Sunday on whether to legalize abortion. Polls initially showed strong support for the abortion referendum, but pro-life groups and the Catholic Church have cut the margin with a strong educational campaign.
If approved, the referendum would legalize abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Currently, the western European nation only allows abortion 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.
It is one of just a handful of nations on the continent, including Ireland, Poland and Malta, that make abortions illegal.
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. Portuguese voters turned back a previous effort to legalize abortion in 1998 on a 51-49 percentage margin and just 30 percent of the people voted.
Some analysts say the previous vote failed because the ruling Socialist government took no position on it. This time, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates has actively campaigned for the referendum.
The campaign against the referendum has been working and more than 9,000 pro-life advocates took to the streets in Portugal last month to oppose it.
A poll released in early January by Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manha and the pollster Aximage showed 64 percent of the Portuguese people favored the abortion referendum.
However, a new survey published late last month in the daily Jornal de Noticias found only 38 percent of Portuguese voters will support legalizing abortion. That’s down from the newspaper’s earlier poll showing 53 percent of registered voters would back it.
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.