After a referendum on Portugal’s strict abortion laws failed due to low voter turn-out, the country’s Socialist government has announced that it will work to legalize abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Portuguese voters yesterday decisively voted to liberalize Portugal‘s extremely strict abortion law, but the results were considered invalid because only 44 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot; for a referendum to be considered binding, at least half of the country’s eligible population must vote. Currently, Portuguese legislation allows for abortion only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if a woman’s health or life is at risk. Women pregnant because of rape may be considered for an abortion until the 16th week.
Luis Marques Mendes, who heads the Social Democratic Party, remarked, “The will of the Portuguese must be respected,” the BBC reports, suggesting that opposition parties will not attempt to veto new legislation that would liberalize the country’s laws. Supporters of lifting the abortion ban cited over 23,000 illegal abortions performed yearly. Currently Portugal’s abortion practices are some of most restrictive in the European Union.
Portugal’s restrictive abortion laws have been under debate ever since Women on Waves, a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands, traveled by ship to Portugal in 2004 to raise awareness about reproductive rights. The organization, whose mission is to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions throughout the world, travels to countries where abortion is illegal and provides essential reproductive health services to women aboard the ship in international waters. When Women on Waves traveled to Portugal in 2004, the ship was blocked from the country by the Portuguese Navy. The Feminist Majority Foundation has worked with Women on Waves since its first trip to Ireland six years ago, providing security support through its National Clinic Access Project. During the ship’s trip to Portugal, the Feminist Majority Foundation had senior staff on the boat, training staff and volunteers to guard against potential violence or disruptions.