LISBON, November 24, 2004 ( – Portugal’s Prime Minister said Tuesday he would not consider suspending trials against women charged with procuring illegal abortions there. “Suspending prosecutions would amount to changing the law, and we can’t change the law,” Pedro Santana Lopes told RTP state television in an interview.

The comments were in response to a proposal tabled by the opposition Communist party earlier in November to drop charges against any women who procured abortions. The ruling Social Democrats assured their coalition partner, the Popular Party, that they would not change abortion legislation or call another referendum before the next election in 2006.

Voters in a 1998 referendum voted narrowly to retain the illegal status of abortion on demand; abortions are allowed there for serious health risks to the mother or in cases of rape or incest.  Portugal is under increasing pressure from the European Union to eliminate its abortion restrictions. An attempt in September by some members of the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee to have the Parliament publish a formal complaint against Portugal for denying the Dutch abortion boat was met with little support. Earlier that month, the Dutch Foreign Minister and a majority of Dutch elected officials appealed to Portugal to allow the Women on Waves abortion boat access to Portuguese ports.  In anticipation of a fifth abortion debate in parliament in March, a coalition of pro-life groups known as “More Life, More Family” collected 190,000 signatures in their bid to prevent a change to the Portuguese abortion legislation. A leader of the coalition, Teresa Aires de Campos, told reporters that “The success of our petition shows it is a fallacy to think public opinion has changed and a new referendum is needed.”  See related coverage:  EU Members’ Criticism of Portugal for Refusing Entry to Abortion Boat Receives Little Support Dutch Politicians Urge Portugal to Allow Abortion Ship Portugal’s Pro-Life Coalition Collects 190,000 Signatures Against Abortion Liberalization   tv