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.
The debate over Portugal's restrictive abortion laws heated up after Women on Waves raised awareness about them in 2004. WOW is a Dutch organization based on a ship. Their mission is to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions throughout the world, by travelling to countries where abortion is illegal and providing reproductive health services in international waters. When WOW tried to help Portuguese women in 2003, they were blocked by the Portuguese Navy.
In addition to Portugal, Women On Waves has had campaigns in Poland, Argentina, and their first, highly publicized campaign, in Ireland in 2001. Ireland has the most restrictive abortion laws in the Europe Union. More than 6,000 Irish women travel to Britain every year to obtain abortions.