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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK
Portugal agrees to abortion vote
Portuguese pro-choice protesters
Public attitudes towards abortion have changed in Portugal
Portugal's parliament has voted to hold a referendum on relaxing abortion laws before the end of the year.

The Socialist government wants a referendum on whether people believe abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy should no longer be illegal.

Six years ago, voters rejected reform but opinion polls show that legalising abortion within the first 10 weeks would meet with public approval.

The final decision on calling a public vote lies with President Jorge Sampaio.

Mr Sampaio is said to support legalised abortion for Portugal, which has among the strictest abortion laws in Europe. In the UK, a termination can be carried out up until 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The government, which was supported by the left bloc in the vote in parliament, would like to hold the referendum on 27 November. Right of centre parties opposed the motion.

The president has until 18 October to call a referendum, if it is to be held in November.

Close vote

Earlier this year, after a similarly successful vote in parliament, Mr Sampaio decide not to call a vote, saying conditions were not right to guarantee representative participation.

The Socialist Party first proposed the motion for the abortion referendum after coming to power after a landslide win in general elections in February.

Then, they said voters would be asked: "Do you agree that abortions, carried out in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, with the woman's consent, in a legal medical establishment, should no longer be illegal?"

Under current law a woman can have an abortion only if her life is in danger, to protect her mental or physical health, or in cases of rape, incest or foetal impairment.

Thousands of illegal "backstreet" abortions are believed to be carried out every year.

In the 1998 referendum voters upheld the existing laws by 51% to 49%. But public opinion in Portugal, which is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, is reported to have changed after a series of prosecutions of women who had abortions.

In July, a court acquitted two women accused of having illegal abortions after a year-long trial. The women were acquitted after the prosecution admitted it did not have enough evidence against the women.


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