By Terry Vanderheyden

LISBON, November 1, 2005 ( – Portugal’s constitutional court has denied the country’s ruling Socialist Party a referendum on abortion planned for late this month, because the currently ruling president had already rejected an attempt at a referendum during his term in office.

The referendum was originally planned for later this month, to fulfill a campaign promise by Prime Minister Jose Socrates and his ruling Socialists made prior to February’s election.

Originally set for June, the date was moved to November 27 because of a fear of low voter turnout during the summer holiday season. The last referendum in 1998 resulted in a slim majority favouring upholding the law, although voter turnout was poor – only 30 percent. In order for a referendum to be binding, there must be a minimum 50 percent voter turnout.

A poll of 807 people conducted by Marktest last year claimed support for the legalization of abortion – especially among the young – at 54 percent countrywide, although a 190,000-signature petition presented to parliament in March 2004 denied lawmakers the chance to legalize abortion. A pro-life coalition presented the petition after parliament announced a decision to debate the legalization of abortion for the fifth time since democracy was introduced there in 1974. Because President Jorge Sampaio was forced to cancel debate on abortion then, the court decided the issue could not be revisited by the same president. Sampaio’s five-year term in office expires this spring.

The Socialist’s referendum seeks to legalize abortion-on-demand throughout the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Currently, abortion can be committed when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, if there is a fetal malformation, or if continuation of the pregnancy presents a serious risk to the mother’s health.

Pro-abortion Socialists hold 121 of the 230 seats in parliament.

See related coverage:
  Abortion Referendum Planned for Portugal by New Socialist Government


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