On Sunday July 15 a law came into effect in predominantly Catholic Portugal allowing abortion up to the tenth week of pregnancy. After a mandatory three-day "cooling off" period, abortion is available on demand in hospitals.
The law maintains a few minor restrictions, including the three-day waiting period. Before procuring an abortion, the International Herald-Tribune reports, the expectant mother must first talk to a doctor who will explain the health risks of abortion. According to the new law, she must then wait an additional three days before having the operation. After an abortion, women are required to attend a government session on contraception education.
Doctors are allowed to refrain from performing an abortion on the grounds of conscience. According to the Herald-Tribune, it is estimated that up to 80% of doctors in some hospitals may refuse.
Under the previous law — one of the strictest in the EU-abortion was only legal up to twelve weeks gestation if the life or health of the mother was in danger, or in cases of rape or fetal abnormality.
For the past decade, the Socialist party — which now holds the government majority-has been pushing to loosen the abortion restrictions in Portugal. This March, the new Socialist Party succeeded in introducing the abortion bill jointly with the Communist Party, the Left Block and the Green Party.
President Anibal Cavaco Silva tried to block the new legislation and introduced measures that would discourage a woman from having an abortion, such as showing her an ultrasound picture of her baby and offering adoption information. Although these were not officially accepted, Silva nevertheless ratified the new legislation in April.
In 1998 there was a national referendum that showed that the majority of people were against loosening abortion restrictions. The results were declared invalid, however, because only 30% of the population turned out to vote. During a similar referendum in February of this year, the vote was in favor of abortion. Once again, less than half of the population voted. Nevertheless, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates declared that he would accept the results as valid.