by Steven Ertelt
February 11, 2007
Lisbon, Portugal (LifeNews.com) — Voters in Portugal failed to approve a referendum to legalize abortions as fewer than half of the nation’s voters turned out to weigh in on the sensitive issue. Despite the loss, leaders of the Portuguese government said they will press ahead with legislation in the nation’s parliament to legalize abortions.
Results of the voting showed that 59 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of legalized abortion while 41 percent voted no.
However, for the vote to become valid more than 50 percent of the nation’s eligible voters needed to turn out and only about 45 percent participated.
Had it been approved, the referendum would legalize abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Currently, Portugal 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.
Though the vote did not make abortion legal, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates said he would ask parliament to begin work immediately on legislation that would legalize the practice.
He noted how a higher percentage of Portuguese voters went to the polls compared with the last time the western European nation held a referendum on legalizing abortion. He cited the increased turnout as a mandate for legislation to legalize abortion.
"The people have spoken and they have spoken in a clear voice," Socrates said.
Responding to the vote, the conservative Social Democratic Party conceded that parliament should look at legalizing abortions while the small CDS/PP vowed to fight any efforts to do so.
Portugal is one of just a handful of nations on the European continent, including Ireland, Poland and Malta, that make abortions illegal.
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.
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.