Feb 19, 2007
On February 11th, Portugal’s voters responded “Yes” to a ballot referendum: “Do you agree to legalize abortion, at the request of the woman, in the first ten weeks, if it takes place in a legally authorized establishment?” The vote was 53% in favor.
But less than half the voters turned out. Only 44% of those eligible voted, so the result was not legally binding on the government. Nevertheless, the Socialist Prime Minister José Socrates declared, “abortion will stop being a crime.” He said that by July he’ll have a law passed enforcing it. A good number of right-wing deputies are for legalization, so the law won’t face much opposition.
But neither the Popular Party, which is reactionary and very hostile to abortion, nor the Catholic hierarchy, have given up the fight. They don’t have the habit of submitting just because they’re in the minority. It’s clear they’ll continue to use every means to put pressure on women, doctors and the government, so that this freedom won at the ballot box won’t become a reality in Portugal.
The law doesn’t settle all problems. It doesn’t seem likely that President Cavaco will be opposed to its proclamation. But all kinds of traps, unforeseen difficulties and limitations can slip into the implementing decrees. And then it will be necessary to find doctors, medical personnel, and hospitals so the law can be applied. In the U.S., as the result of terrorist attacks on abortion clinics and doctors who perform abortions, abortion simply isn’t available in the majority of counties in the country.
In Portugal, after a long struggle, women and partisans of freedom for women have scored a point against the church and reaction. But after this victory at the ballot box, a struggle is still needed to insure freedom for women to make their own choices.