Portugal’s referendum to legalize abortion in the first ten weeks of pregnancy was partially successful. About 60% of voters said yes, but turnout was too low to make the referendum binding; however, the result gives the Socialist-dominated parliament the political capital necessary to overturn the law itself.
Debate over the abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the European Union, pitted the Socialist government against conservative parties and the Catholic Church, which claims more than 90 percent of Portuguese as followers.
Under current law, the procedure is allowed only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or if a mother’s health is in danger, and only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
It could still be some time, however, before the law is changed. A bill would have to be voted on first in parliament and then go to the president for approval. It would come into force only when the new legislation is published in the public records _ a procedure that usually takes several months.
Portugal is one of the most religious nations in Europe; it’s almost on a par with Poland. The Catholic Church is, as always, the prime mover behind abortion restrictions. The three EU countries with the strictest abortion restrictions – Ireland, Poland, and Portugal – are also the ones where the Catholic Church is strongest.
Officially, the Catholic Church’s position was that people shouldn’t vote. But that was the pro-lifer’s rational strategy, since voting no could increase turnout above the requisite 50% without unseating the majority for yes. If that sounds too abstract, consider this: at 60% yes and a turnout of 44% (though CNN’s reporting 34-40, not 44), if 7% of the population turned out and voted no instead of abstained then the turnout would’ve been high enough but there would’ve been a 52-48 majority for legalization.
Prime Minister Socrates is right when he calls the current law backward. Portugal has the second least sexually promiscuous population of all European countries surveyed but one of the highest teen birth rates; Poland has the least promiscuous population and about the same teen birth rate as Portugal. The third pro-life European country, Ireland, only has teen birth statistics, which are as bad as these of Portugal and Poland.
For sure, legalizing abortion alone only increases the abortion rate, though it’s at the expense of unwanted births. But it makes abortion safer and recognizes its existence. Portuguese women who go to Spain to abort don’t enter any Portuguese statistics. So this will help people recognize just how bad the problem of teen pregnancy is, and what is needed to prevent it (hint: there’s a reason NL has the lowest overall rate).