Portugal's parliament on Wednesday voted to hold a referendum to decriminalize abortion during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. For the referendum to be accepted, not only must it gain a majority of votes, but also more than half of the nationís registered voters must cast a ballot. A date for the poll has not yet been set. This is the second Portuguese abortion referendum to come to a vote. The first, in 1998, was defeated by a narrow margin of 51 to 49 percent, and voter turnout was low.
Portugal is one of the few countries in Europe that bans abortions, except in instances where the motherís life or health is in danger, the fetus is malformed, or the mother was raped. The country has an estimated annual rate of about 700 legal abortions and 20,000 to 40,000 illegal abortions, according to Reuters. A woman convicted of receiving an illegal abortion faces a jail sentence of up to three years.
Women on Waves traveled to Portugal in 2004 to bring attention to the nationís punitive abortion policies. Though the ship was never allowed to enter Portuguese waters Ė in fact, it was blocked by Portugalís Navy Ė the trip succeeded renewing the debate in Portugal about the countryís restrictive abortion policies. A poll conducted shortly after the trip found that three in five voters in Portugal wanted to liberalize Portugalís abortion laws and nearly 77 percent wanted to hold a new referendum on abortion. The Feminist Majority Foundation traveled with Women on Waves to Portugal to provide security assistance.