Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates will ask the country’s parliament to legalise abortion, after a second referendum on the issue failed to bring sufficient voter turnout.
Portugal held, on 11 February 2007, a referendum on legalising abortion. Some 60% of the voters were ready for the change whereas 40% voted against. However, the result of the referendum is not valid as only 44% of the population actually voted. According to Portuguese law, the turnout must be more than 50%.
This is the second time that Portugal has held an unsuccessful referendum on the issue. The result of the first referendum, held in 1998 (51% ‘No’ votes, 49% ‘Yes’ votes) was declared void as the turnout was only around 30%.
Despite the outcome of the most recent vote, Prime Minister José Sócrates is determined to liberalise his country’s strict anti-abortion law. He said that he would pass the law legalising abortion up to ten weeks through parliament, where his centre-left Socialist Party party holds an overwhelming majority. “Portugal will now tackle abortion in the same way as most other developed European countries,” he said.
Portugal has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Abortion is only allowed up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape, a malformed foetus or if the woman’s life is in danger. An illegal abortion can lead to three years’ imprisonment.
Most EU countries allow abortion up to three months into pregnancy. Only Poland, Malta and Ireland have as strict a stance on the issue as Portugal.