Nurse Maria do Ceu Ribeiro was sentenced to eight years and six months in jail for providing abortions in Portugal where abortion is illegal except in cases of rape and in cases where pregnancy poses a serious risk to the woman. Seventeen women were also on trial for having abortions. While charges against one woman were dropped, sixteen were ordered to pay fines.
Pro-choice supporters in Portugal, a country heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, have criticized the legal proceedings, claiming that the law does not meet the needs of women. “This trial [was] the result of applying a law that is perfectly out of sync with Portuguese reality,” said Duarte Vilar, Executive Director of Portugal’s Planned Parenthood Association. According to abortion rights advocates, up to 40,000 illegal abortions are performed in Portugal each year and many women travel outside of the country, at great expense, to seek services. Restrictions on abortion access, according to healthcare workers, make botched abortion the leading cause of maternal mortality in Portugal. In 1998, abortion-rights activists estimated that hospitals in Portugal saw roughly 10,000 women a year suffering from complications from illegal abortions.
Abortion rights advocates from 42 countries have come together to protest the Portuguese law against abortion. Ilda Figueiredo, a deputy to the European Parliament, has circulated a petition calling for the Portuguese abortion ban to be lifted. The petition already has hundreds of signatures.